This was my first read of Christopher Priest, and I found it masterfully done. The interplay of competing character stories, the use of journal entries to propel the passage of time, and the story itself were wonderful, dipping only slightly through the second middle half of the book.
Priest makes the fantasy and science elements seem plausible, interlacing the protagonist's story with the inner workings of late 19th century Britain and the inclusion of the eccentric Nikola Tesla to give it a realistic historical play.
I selected this book because it was read by Simon Vance. From the Prestige, to A Short History of Nearly Everything, to Interview with the Vampire, to Dune, to The Great Divorce... all masterworks by their respective authors, all masterfully narrated by Vance. He is, in my mind the greatest narrator Audible has.
"The New Transported Man"
It was interesting listening to this after having seen the movie years ago. I remembered enough of the movie to know the Secrets but not enough that I could anticipate details or make comparisons. However, there are massive differences between the book and the movie anyway. It's too bad that this is one of those rare cases where the movie is far better than the story, and not even as much in the plot as in the execution of storytelling.
The story is told through a series of journals, and Simon Vance does a nice job of differentiating the voices (even aging the voices of individual characters as necessary). As is often the case, trying to sound female or like a child is a bit of a stretch, but Vance manages it clearly yet smooth enough that it is not distracting.
Alfred Borden's journal is easily the best writing in the story. Knowing the Secret also made it really fun to see exactly where Priest was playing with the reader's expectations. I absolutely loved that section of the book! That section is very well crafted and some of my favorite writing in a while.
Unfortunately, it was all down hill from there. One of the mantras of writing is "Show don't tell", but Priest is over the top in "telling not showing" several times. Major reveals are conveyed second hand in very anti-climatic ways. Technically, it is even third hand or in one situation fourth hand as the journal writer tells us what the reporter told him that a lady told him. It could have been subtle playing with unreliable narrators, testimonial knowledge, and more subterfuge, but in reality, it isn't. It just comes across as flat and uninteresting.
I keep coming back to the word "anti-climatic" but that really sums it up for me. For example, the structure of one major Secret's reveal (hoping to keep this vague enough and metaphorical enough not to spoil anything), is like a magician performing a card trick. You figure out the card was up his sleeve and the trick is actually pretty easy. But then someone says "I checked his sleeve and didn't see the card!" So you are curious again about the trick, until that person says "Oh wait, I didn't look close enough. Yeah, there was a card in his sleeve. Never mind, you were right." The suspense and reveal are far too bland, and with a book about magicians and their secrets, the reveals are important. A clear warning sign is the fact that Priest needs to have his characters constantly remind us that this is mysterious and inexplicable. "Sure, we already have an explanation that eventually turns out true, but no, really, you don't understand it really is WAY mysterious." Again, telling us it is mysterious is far less interesting than showing us.
Also, this may be more of a pet peeve of mine, but really all of the characters except one are very unsympathetic to the point of you not really feeling bad when things go wrong for them. The only character that is remotely sympathetic is Kate, but she's barely in the book, has little personality, and no real story to her other than a mystery that she of course tells us is VERY mysterious, but given that we start the book with the theme of possibly duplicate people and every single storyline involves that theme, again the mystery falls pretty flat.
There is so much I didn't like about this story that it's sad considering that I REALLY enjoyed the first third or so and would easily give that 5 stars. It really is very well crafted. Unfortunately, the rest just doesn't work for me and comes across as a whole series of bad choices by Priest and rather poorly crafted storytelling. Perhaps Priest is really two brothers and one began the story and the other finished it. Too bad one is a great writer and the other not so much.
I loved this book, it's dark and magical, a wonderful mystery through generations and time. The prose and the pacing is excellent, and you really sympathize with everyone. It's a bit on the dark and morbid side, so if you like that, I would highly recommend it to you.
It wasn't a bad book, but it seemed lengthy to me and at times difficult to get through. Its written much like its movie counterpart yet has several large discrepancies, including the ending. If you liked the movie the book could be worth a read for a similar yet different story.
The narrator is terrific in the telling of this wonderful story.
Simon always does a great job. It's even moe noticeable when he has good material to work with. This book allowed Simon to shine!
Very good story.
I have not physically read the book, rather have only listened to the audio.
Good mystery. Reminds me of Poe in many ways.
I think that the speaker provided a more authentic setting with his voice that I would have conjured just reading the book, as I do not have a point of reference for this time.
I was moved by the times that the characters tried to apologize to the other and stop the feud.
I would highly recommend this book. I will listen to this more than once. I think that hearing it again will illuminate the ending for me.
This is one of the top books I have listened to so far.
It is a fast paced story with a good plot.
He did a great job with all of the characters. I enjoyed how he gave the men different accents, and he is very good at reading aloud as a female.
The ending blew me away. I made my husband listen to this book just so I would have someone to discuss it with.
This is a fun book that dips into a couple of different genres. It does not appeal to just one group.
There are a small number of instances in which the narrator has need to describe things, labels and such, which would probably make more sense in text. But, the distinct voices throughout, and the multiplicity of 'speakers' each in their own style, might make them easyer to hear than to read alone. Unusually for me, I found this narrative to be one I had to often focus and close my eyes to fully appreciate. Descriptions, especially as the book is full of magical spectacle, are often so complex in their workings that nothing but careful and deliberate mental construction can make them fully understood. A necessity which can prove tiresome and difficult when attempting to multi task...
The novel is unique in my experience in its exploration of multiple viewpoints so that, in the end, most characters can be seen as having been good And bad in turn...
That said however, I dig Tesla in general and had to smile at his mad scientist fun coupled with a flair for skipping out on debts... seems like fun in a way... victorian rock stars... of a sort... :)
As I mentioned, the book is broken into several different sections with different narators often purposefully placed on opposate sides of an issue, I appreciated then the reader's ability to subtly alter intonations to make identification of each voice easy to achieve. Sometimes narrator changes are quick and tricky, I appreciate the reader taking a lot of the stress of remembering which character was speaking out of the read.
After spending so long in other people's memories and characterisations, I found the ending of the novel particularly visceral. Moving from memory to the present in that way, and to That Present was, I thought, particularly effective.
I think this novel is a Must for anyone with a love of performing magic. I had an interest myself as a kid and found the whole inner art and struggle very inspiring and evocative. The work and the narrative Feel Old in a historic and ancestral way and the sense of life as a magician during that time was particularly strong. A trip back in time at its best to gaudy theatres and turn of the century society; a fitting scene to set...
....and both happen to be great!.....The characters, Borden and Angier are basically good people that let their passion for magic basically turn them into ugly monsters.....they ended up ruining their lives by wanting to ruin each other. Jealousy and hate are ugly emotions to deal with. I think a movie that went by the book would have been just as fascinating.....I really liked the mixing of current day with past experiences.....I just wonder why they did make the movie so different?....Anyway......the ending is just plain ole creepy and much more so if you happen to listen to the audio book like I did.....Great read and very fascinating and intriguing story.
It is very easy to get interested in series or books with very similar styles and themes. But I love it when I find a good book that is (at least for me) completely unique and original. This is what this book was for me. The story was good and very original. The presentation was different and the narration was excellent. As a matter of fact Simon Vance is one of the reasons that I decided to take a chance on this book and I was not disappointed.