You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Prestige

Christopher Priest's The Prestige is a mysterious thriller set in the late 19th century England, at a time when the popularity of magicians was on the rise. The heart of the story is the rivalry between two magicians, a rivalry that lasts their whole lives and expands to affect their professional careers. The form of the book is that of memoirs written by the two magicians and their descendants in the present day.

In the opening, a young man named Nicholas Borden tells about how he has always felt he had a twin brother out there somewhere. He could sense his brother even though he had always known that he was a single child and all evidence of his birth showed that he had no siblings. When he is sent on assignment as a journalist, he meets a woman named Kate Angier who tells him that she has information about his past. He learns that his great grandfather was Alfred Borden and her great grandfather was Rupert Angier, and that the two men had had a great rivalry over a hundred years earlier.

The story follows in Alfred Borden's memoir. Borden is the son of a cabinet maker and learns the family trade, which helps him make devices for his magical acts. He is an acute student of the art of magic. He assumes the stage name Le Professeur de Magie. Borden discovers that there are unsavory magicians who are holding seances and using magic tricks to fool bereaved families. He sneaks into one such seance and disrupts it, exposing the medium as a fraud. The medium is Rupert Angier, and this starts the bitter feud that will entangle their careers. With the clever use of the form, we do not discover until we read Angier's account why the episode had enraged him so much.

Borden's big trick for his finale is The Transported Man. It is an act where he closes himself into a large cabinet and then immediately steps out of one across the stage. When Angier sees it, he cannot figure it out, and this drives him to distraction. Angier is a premier showman, but he cannot always figure out how magic tricks work, depending on the help of others. The conflict between the two men drives the story, particularly Angier's obsession with Borden's secret.

Angier's memoir follows Borden's, and we learn the other side of the picture. Angier's family is wealthy, though his older brother stands to inherit the estate. He tells of his attempts to disrupt Borden's shows due to his anger, but also his fascination with Borden's tricks. The obsession leads to an affair and the breakup of his marriage. When his mistress tires of him, she tells him she will leave him but give him one last gift, the secret of Borden's trick. When she hands him the note, it has one word on it: Tesla. Thus Angier goes to America to entreat Nikola Tesla to help him create a great trick to match Borden's.

The theme of twins is a critical part of the novel. In addition to Nicholas, there is the question of Alfred Borden's secret. Is Borden's magic trick so all encompassing that he has changed his whole life to make it succeed? And when Angier receives his magic device, there comes the haunting effects of doubling that he must deal with. (I have seen the movie and it is great; though the book is a little different it is also great.) The mystery deepens and gets darker throughout the memoirs. It is truly haunting when you realize what Angier means by the prestige materials. The final section, narrated by Nicholas as he descends to the Angier crypt, is chilling even as it ties his life to that of his ancestor. The mystery of the magicians' secrets makes for an exciting story. A-

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