Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Prestige - Christopher Priest

Having seen the film adaptation of The Prestige some years ago, I thought I knew what to expect from the book. I soon found out, however, that it was a rather loosely based adaptation, with the main characters and premise transplanted into an almost entirely different plot. Not that it wasn’t good – I remember enjoying it and being surprised by the ending, even if I had a lot of difficulty telling Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale apart.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have to say that I prefer the book – as with most film adaptations, a lot of depth was lost in translation to the screen. The novel is narrated by four different characters – two Victorian illusionists, and their modern-day descendants. With each retelling of events, we learn more about what occurred, and the differences in perspective between characters are clearly shown. The reader can also get a better insight into each character individually, as we read their views (in the form of dairies or notes, in the case of the illusionists), and it is interesting to see the parallels between the two men who make themselves sworn enemies.

It’s explicitly stated in the novel that Borden and Angier’s feud really is petty, and that both regret it at some point. For me, this adds a poignancy to the fact that they helped to ruin each others’ lives for no major purpose. The repercussions of the illusionists’ actions on their descendants 100 years later also frames the narrative in a way that (if I remember rightly) is lacking in the film.

The results of operating the device Angier has Tesla create for his magic trick are less melodramatic than in the film, but more spine-chilling for all that. Priest creates a hint of the unnatural as well as the scientific, evoking almost an H G Wells-like feel by the end as the full repercussions of Angier’s use of the machine are felt.

As I expected events to pan out the way they did in the film adaptation, parts of the novel were a genuine surprise to me. I realised after finishing that, as with any good magic trick, I hadn’t been given enough information to fully explain events, but that, in the midst of the action, I hadn’t even noticed.

Well worth reading if you’re a fan of the film, or even if you’re not. And if you enjoyed reading this, watch the film! It’s different enough that it’ll still surprise you.

Next up: Rumpole à la Carte, by John Mortimer

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