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Book: The Prestige

April 10, 2011

It seems I’m sort of on a turn-of-the-century kick lately, without really meaning to. Nothing wrong with that — this was another fun book. I think my reading curse of last year has been lifted (let’s hope!) because I’ve been loving most the books I’m reading lately.

Let’s see. So I hadn’t seen this movie (but now I totally want to), but the summary sucked me in immediately: Dueling magicians from the late 1800s battling to create the best illusion… with some science fiction thrown in for good measure? Yes please!

The book opens with the narrator, a descendant of one of the magicians, reluctantly tracing his past, to see if he can find his long-lost twin brother. He meets the sole remaining descendant of the other magician, and together they start to unravel a mystery. The novel then shifts to being told from the magician’s points of view, through journal entries. I am not usually a huge fan of the epistolary style, but it worked in this book.

First we hear from Alfred Borden, who from the outset warns us that his stock in trade is misdirection. He is an unreliable narrator at best. We learn the story of how he became fascinated with magic, and how the rivalry between he and Rupert Angier started. As the feud grows, Borden’s motives are often called into question — he himself often wonders why the feud continues, and yet he carries on with his side of the upset. Towards the end of his narrative, we become confused about who exactly is writing his journal — to use his phrasing, was it him, or was it him?

I actually liked Rupert Angier’s side of the story better. He is clearly younger, more fiery, and possibly more thoughtful (although it could be argued that he is the less scrupulous of the two). His drive to top Borden’s superior “Transported Man” illusion is catching — I found myself trying to figure out how the devil Borden pulled it off!

Anyway. I really can’t give too much away, which is a shame because this is one of those novels where you find yourself at the end going, “Wait. What just happened? So he was really… ? And when that happened, was it actually…? And who did the…?” And I really want to know! So if anyone has read this, let me know. I need to ask some questions.

Things I liked: the atmosphere of the 1890s theater world, the drama and elegance of getting ready for the show, the craft in creating a perfect mystery and keeping the illusion intact. I also really enjoyed how the science fiction aspect unfolded over time, keeping me guessing all through the novel until the very end when a lot of things became clear (but not everything). I found myself wanting to go back and recheck certain events from both sides of the story.

Things I didn’t like: it was a little slow to start (but then it completely sucked me in). Sometimes the mystery was maddening. And I feel like I wanted a more full explanation of what happened, at the end. But we are warned from the outset that magic is all about misdirection, illusion, and mystery. So we don’t get to know everything. Unless I missed a few major clues (which is entirely possible).

This was a really enjoyable read and went quickly. I loved the drama and intensity towards the end. Now I really can’t wait to watch the movie, I’ve heard that it’s quite good.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2011 12:03 pm

    This is one of my favorite, favorite books, and I thought the movie was fantastic. As a rule the more I like a book, the less I like the movie. Exceptional!

    I puzzled too, and missed things. The ending was especially scary partly in its puzzlingness/surrealness and emotional tones. It felt right even though I didn’t “get” it. I wish I had read it more recently so I could discuss it intelligently!

    The movie is less vague than the book–has to be, or it wouldn’t work–but I think you’ll find it captures a lot atmosphere and tension and slipperiness of the perspective. I’m holding myself back from blabbering about my favorite parts! I’d pretty much a model of my ideal for a faithful movie adaptation: not slavish or plodding, yet not just using the book as a springboard to something entirely unrelated to the book, while still managing to be a work of art on it’s own.

    • April 10, 2011 1:09 pm

      Awesome, I can’t wait to see it! Yeah, the ending was moody and confusing, and I’m still puzzled about Alfred’s trick… but it was such a good book.

  2. D'Arcy permalink
    April 10, 2011 7:19 pm

    I’ve read it, too, and I remember feeling the same way at the end – did what I think just happened, happen? I remember feeling a bit confused and not totally getting it.

    • April 11, 2011 9:44 am

      Yeah, that’s the general impression I was left with. “Um, that was really good, but… what just happened?”

  3. April 12, 2011 5:14 am

    I do need to read this at some point. I’ve watched the movie several times and really enjoy it. Great cast, great sets. I’ll be interested in seeing if you like it after reading the book. There is always the danger of it not living up to the book.

    • April 12, 2011 12:17 pm

      I am very excited to see the movie! I’ve heard it’s really good.

  4. April 13, 2011 9:19 am

    im definitely requesting this one from the library.

    your review was so good, it really makes me want to read the book.

    also, im glad your reading things you love.lately ive been muddling through nothing real exciting.

    • April 14, 2011 10:42 am

      Oh yay! You will HAVE to let me know what you think of the ending. I’ve been having pretty good reading luck lately. Feel free to steal my list. 🙂

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