The Prestige – Christopher Priest (TMWTR w/movie comparison)

The Prestige is a book that I probably would have never read if it wasn’t on my tell me what to read list. There really isn’t any specific reasoning behind that. I just wasn’t really compelled by the storyline. However, after I mentioned I picked it up at the library several people on my Goodreads and Twitter told me they’d be very interested in hearing my opinion of the book and the movie. That peaked my interest so I devoured the book and then watched the movie on Friday night.
The plot is incredibly detailed and complex, which is kind of surprising when you figure that the book is roughly 350ish pages long. Not only that, but the novel spans an incredible amount of time from modern day to the late 1800’s and back again (several times). Keeping the plot focused despite the incredible span of time must have been quite a feat for Priest.
This book won the World Fantasy Award in 1996, and there are good reasons why. Priest’s writing is good. All of his voices remain more or less individual and that’s saying something, as there are roughly four first person perspectives in this book. The two magicians were the most individual in their voices and the two modern perspectives much less so. However, they are still unique enough to understand that there are four different main characters with four (somewhat) different stories being told. Priest obviously spends more time on the magician’s stories, but they also take up the biggest part of the book and thus, it is understandable that he’d want to spend more time detailing their stories and making them believable and enjoyable to read about.
This point more or less leads me to the only real complaint I have about the book. The first half of the book was very absorbing. The characters were well done and once the story got going I immediately felt pulled in through the writing, the mystery and the fantastic. However, at about the halfway point I felt that the modern day portions of the book kind of unraveled. They became, by far, the weakest parts of the book. The story was interesting, but it almost seemed like an aside rather than an important plot point and I found myself wishing that Priest had spent more time on the journals and less time on the modern portions. While the story was important to the overall work, I almost felt that it could have been left out and the book would have been just fine.
The ending also seemed almost rushed and was one of the most unsatisfactory endings I’ve encountered in a book in a long time. The mystery is revealed but there is an unfinished air to it that really got under my skin. While I can understand that a somewhat mysterious ending really was necessary to the body of work as a whole, the rushed air of it made it unbelievable and very disappointing. It was like the book was moving toward some momentous crescendo to just fizzle out.
However, Preist’s writing, his obvious flair for details and the incredibly absorbing plot really serve to push the reader through those hiccups I mentioned above. When the overall body of work is looked at as a whole, The Prestige really is worth reading despite the almost-unnecessary perspectives, the slight unraveling of the plot toward the second half and the ending that really annoyed me (which also might just be a personal opinion of mine rather than something I should mention in a review). This book could also serve as a good crossover for fiction fans. The “fantastic” aspects of this book are incredibly subtle and, if a reader isn’t looking for the fantasy in it, they could easily overlook it. This would be a really good book for mystery fans to read. The mystery is strong, the plot is complex and keeps you guessing and the fantastic is subtle enough to please people who aren’t into fantasy, but also obvious enough to please fantasy fans.

Priest did an amazing job weaving together a mystery, thriller, urban fantasy and memoir. It’s quite incredible that he managed all of that, and the incredible details to pull off a work as satisfying as The Prestige. While the book did have obvious problems, it was well written and enjoyable. It is a book that really messes with your mind and will stick with you for days after while you try to figure out if your understanding of events is really what happened. The Prestige straddles a lot of genres, making it appealing to a wide array of individuals. There’s a little of everything in here all wrapped nicely in mystery and detail. 
4/5 stars
Movie comparison
I’m not a big movie person. Actually, I almost hate movies. I rarely watch them. They lose my interest in about 10 minutes flat (usually). My perfect day in hell would be a day stuck in a movie theater surrounded by morons opening endless candy wrappers (I hate the noises wrappers make) and people chewing popcorn with their mouths open. Furthermore, it’s rare that a movie interests me enough to get me to watch it. After reading this book, even if I hadn’t been asked to compare it to the movie I would have wanted to watch it. The book was so interesting that the movie just called to me.
There isn’t much in common between the book and the movie besides the basic plot and two main characters. However, in some aspects I almost liked the movie more than the book (please remember that I said that because I doubt I will probably ever say I enjoy a movie more than a book again – probably because I’ll be 112 years old before I watch another movie willingly). There were no modern day aspects to the movie, and while the conclusion at the end was, more or less, the same idea as the book, the way they managed it in the movie seemed to make a lot more sense to me and left me with a satisfied air that I really missed from reading the novel.
Furthermore, while many of the plot details are different between the book and the movie, I felt that the movie seemed almost more tightly woven plot-wise. The characters seemed to have a more substantial foundation and background in the move than in the book which made me care about them more. However, in the movie you also lack a lot of the interesting complexities and a lot of the mystery that I gained from the book.
Between the two, I have to say I enjoyed the movie more than the book for many of the reasons I stated above, though the book is very satisfactory. I did feel that the movie was “cleaner” and “tighter.” However, the book did lend me an overall sense of mystery and a few more “fantastic” aspects than the movie. The immense amount of time covered in the book is also, in some ways, a benefit over the movie as you get to see how this dramatic rivalry affected generations of people in the two families.

Overall, the book and movie are both very well done. The mystery is compelling, the characters are absorbing and the story is absolutely insanely riveting. It’s a story that will play with your mind and stick with you for days after you are finished with it. While the movie focuses more on the period of time and seems to go more in depth with that direct situation, the book is interesting because you get to see how passion and obsession can affect not only you and your family, but generations to come. 

7 Responses

  • Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom)

    Great comparison. I adored the movie adaptation of The Prestige, and I wondered if the book was much the same. Though the modern aspect of the book sounds interesting, I'd have preferred it to stick to a single time period. Still, I'll definitely give this a try. Thanks!

  • Liviu

    I agree with almost all above, except that I liked the book a lot too for the writing which is awesome; not a movie person today either – though i watched hundreds if not thousands of movies many years ago, but like with mysteries and other stuff they all repeat, only sff and literary fiction keeps being new – though the prestige (movie0 is indeed excellent too

    Try The Affirmation which is reputed the author's best (read 3 so far and plan to read more as time goes); just read it last weekeend and it was indeed superb and a top read of mine in 2010.

    The Separation(the other author book read by me) is technically very good and a page turner but left me with a bitter taste and put me off the author's work for a while; if you have an emotional connection with Britain you will most likely love it, but otherwise the nationalistic aspects may put you off

  • Sarah

    Liviu, I saw your review of The Affirmation on Goodreads and it really made me want to read it! Is it a stand alone or do I need to read The Separation first?

    Jamie, I think, by and large, the two seem to compliment each other nicely. The book might make more sense to you if you've watched the movie. It was kind of cool that the movie made more sense to me and I was asked to clarify confusing points for the people I was watching the movie with. That never happens. I felt liks a superstar :p

  • Liviu

    The Affirmation is the earliest (1981) of the 3 C. Priest books I've read (Prestige -95 , Separation – early 00, Affirmation) and it is a standalone with one of the most famous (and very appropriate) endings at least for people in the know…Would not spoil it, but imho the ending is just perfect and caps a superb book.

    I started The Glamour and took a peek at Inverted World too and while I have at least 3-4 other books i plan to read first, The Glamour is a current read so i should get to it soon

  • Memory

    I'm with you on the ending. I really enjoyed the book as a whole, but I felt like the conclusion let me down.

  • Mihai (Dark Wolf)

    I enjoyed tha movie a lot, especially since Christian Bale is an excellent writer. It draw my attention to the novel as well, but I didn't have the chance to read it yet. But I will pick a copy of it next year, when Gollancz publishes a new edition and see how the novel turns out to be.

  • Anonymous

    Who wrote the last chapter of Kate's section? Is it supposed Angier's "ghost"? That's all that I can think of and it's driving me crazy not knowing for sure.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.