In the smoke-and-mirrors world of Victorian music halls, two talented young stage magicians vie to be known as the best illusionist in London. Each of them performs a masterful and seemingly impossible illusion, and each is determined to unravel the secret of his rival’s trick at any cost. But what starts out as professional jealousy soon escalates into a bitter and deadly obsession whose terrible consequences will still be felt by a century later by their descendants, who have their own surprising reasons for wanting to discover the truth.
One of Christopher Priest’s most acclaimed works and winner of both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the World Fantasy Award, The Prestige is an ingeniously constructed entertainment, a masterpiece of misdirection where nothing is what it seems. Readers who have seen the 2006 film adaptation directed by Christopher Nolan will find that though the book shares many similarities with the movie, it also contains many surprises as well as a chilling ending that the reader will never see coming.
Priest, one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists (1983 list), has not been overproductive since he made a small reputation with The Affirmation and The Glamour, published here more than a dozen years ago. His new novel (the title of which refers to the residue left after a magician's successful trick) is enthrallingly odd. In a carefully calculated period style that is remarkably akin to that of the late Robertson Davies, Priest writes of a pair of rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Each has a winning trick the other craves, but so arcane is the nature of these tricks, so incredibly difficult are they to perform, that they take on a peculiar life of their own--in one case involving a mysterious apparent double identity, in the other a reliance on the ferocious powers unleashed in the early experimental years of electricity. The rivalry of the two men is such that in the end, though both are ashamed of the strength of their feelings of spite and envy, it consumes them both, and affects their respective families for generations. This is a complex tale that must have been extremely difficult to tell in exactly the right sequence, while still maintaining a series of shocks to the very end. Priest has brought it off with great imagination and skill. It's only fair to say, though, that the book's very considerable narrative grip is its principal virtue. The characters and incidents have a decidedly Gothic cast, and only the restraint that marks the story's telling keeps it on the rails.
The ending fizzled out.
After I saw the movie, I was dying to read the book, but was sorely disappointed when I did. 👎🏽