Review: The Prestige by Christopher Priest

‘The Prestige. The Prestige. The Prestige. The Prestige. The Prestige.’ This is all anybody coming even vaguely close to me has heard me say for the last four days. Except maybe a snarled instruction to get out of my light. I love this book more than chocolate and Christmas. You know when you’ve finished a book and you loved it, but now you want to cry because you can never again have the joy of discovering it for the first time? Case in point.

Two 19th century stage illusionists, the aristocratic Rupert Angier and the working-class Alfred Borden, engage in a bitter and deadly feud; the effects are still being felt by their respective families a hundred years later. Working in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, they prowl edgily in the background of each other’s shadowy life, driven to the extremes by a deadly combination of obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity. At the heart of the row is an amazing illusion they both perform during their stage acts. The secret of the magic is simple, and the reader is in on it almost from the start, but to the antagonists the real mystery lies deeper. Both have something more to hide than the mere workings of a trick. 

The atmosphere in The Prestige is intense. Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier both perform a similar illusion in their stage show, but neither can work out quite how the other magician does so. The necessity of hiding their secrets consumes both illusionists until both will go to any length to expose the other. The book begins with the descendant of Alfred Borden travelling to meet that of Rupert Angier, to get an explanation for a strange presence haunting him. The diaries of the two deceased magicians are brought to the fore and a plot full of misunderstanding, jealousy and daring is unravelled.

It can be quite hard to follow. Both of them write as if to themselves and so make no pains to be comprehensible. It’s brilliantly done though – despite being inside the head of the illusionists, certain secrets aren’t revealed until the very end. Others are made known to the reader right from the beginning but remain hidden to the enemy. It keeps you guessing throughout; I was absolutely desperate to understand everything. It’s easily one of my favourite book conclusions of all time – it’s fantastic and unforeseeable.

It’s dark, intense and creepy with those eerie traditional Victorian vibes. It’s not Young Adult and it’s not an easy read but it’s worth every single second invested in it. It’s not particularly fast-paced or action-packed but the atmosphere and thought processes more than make up for it. Each magician has their own version of an event that frequently contradicts the others, and this is what makes it so clever – only by reading the memoirs of both can you attempt to understand.

It was made into a film in 2006 and I’m desperate to see it. It was directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Hugh Jackman – so even if I didn’t fall madly in love with the book I’d still want to watch it. I just can’t see how they’ve pulled it off – it must have been very difficult to adapt. I’ll be back to tell you all what it’s like, but at the minute I’m too anxious to even watch the trailer!

Reading back through this, I can see how uninformative this review is. Hopefully I’ll do better when I’ve seen the film, but I really struggled to write this. It’s impossible to do this book justice without actually reading it for yourself. I just feel like a novel that’s better than this one simply cannot exist.

I was sent this book as a RAK by Colleen Mullen but I can’t seem to find an e-mail or contact details for her. I haven’t thanked her properly, so if anyone knows where to find her, that’d be great 🙂


  1. Bex says:

    The film is AMAZING. One of my favourites. I really really want to read the book… Why do your reviews always make me want to read stuff?! 😛

  2. More than chocolate I get but more than Christmas?! That's crazy talk!

    It turns out that it's also been long enough since I watched the film that I can't quite remember the ending! I do remember that it was really clever, though! Although I think I got confused a couple of times because I got distracted…when I forced my parents to rent the DVD, I made them promise to pay full attention so that they could remind me. Now they don't have to – hurrah!

    I think I might save this until I have time to read it properly, i.e. not while I'm on the bus/train to Bradford and trying to pretend it isn't 7am!

    So after all that, guess what? I want to read this! I know, who'd have thought…? 🙂

  3. Colleen says:

    Hello! I am so happy to see you got the book! When I didn't get an email back, I was worried maybe I had the wrong email address typed in, and just hoped that the book made it to you.

    I'm really glad you enjoyed it so much, and you really do need to watch the film! Christian Bale is in it as well – I love both him and Hugh Jackman. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *