“You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” // Review of “The Prestige” by Christopher Priest

Title: The Prestige
Author: Christopher Priest
Audio book narrator: Simon Vance
Genre: Thriller/historical fiction
Date Read: 20/06/2016 – 29/06/2017
Rating: ★★★


I hate to say it, but I think this is one of those rare cases where I thought the movie is better than the book. Having said that, it was intriguing to see where this story began, and it may be just that because I saw the movie first, it is the version I ultimately prefer.

The action centres on the feud between two stage magicians at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth, the way their rivalry consumed so much of them, and how it still affects their descendants nearly a century on.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of turn-of-the-century London, and how the book used the popularity of illusionists and magicians of the time to also examine how easily we are fooled because we don’t really want to know the secrets. This applies to both magic tricks and real life.

The structure of the book was its main downfall. It is in five parts from four different points-of-view. Two are the diaries of Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier, the stage magicians, and the other two are their descendants, who meet in the 1990s. Having one part follow on from another, rather than switch points-of-view when the plot most accommodated it, meant that there was a lot of dancing around the plot twists that I knew were coming. There was a lot of plot that could have been considerably condensed, I felt, if the point-of-view had alternated throughout the book (and I say that as someone not a fan of alternating points-of-view as a rule).

On top of that, apart from offering some intrigue, I honestly thought the modern-day aspect of the book was pretty unnecessary. There would have been ways to reveal the twist without it, and the continuation of the feud through the generations didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The ending was also unclear. I think Priest was probably going for mysterious and ambiguous, but it just confused me.

Simon Vance’s narration of the audio book was commendable – he had distinct voices for each of the narrators and the characters within their stories. I listened to the entire audio book, but I do think that having 12 hours of audio to listen to rather than reading a few hundred pages did highlight the structure issues mentioned above.

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5 thoughts on ““You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” // Review of “The Prestige” by Christopher Priest

  1. Claire | Art and Soul says:

    It’s so brilliant to finally find someone else who has read this book! 🙂
    I completely agree with everything you’ve said here. I too prefer the film, but don’t know whether that’s because I saw it first (and it’s one of my all-time favourites). I also thought the book’s structure let it down and the ending could have been a lot stronger.
    Great review! 🙂
    (I really must make time to watch the film again soon…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Wrayburn says:

      Thanks! It definitely had its moments, but it could have been so much better! I’ve just picked up the movie on DVD to re-watch again. Just to find the time now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Katherine Nabity says:

    I’m never embarrassed to say I like a film better than the book because it means that the film makers have done a really good job. Mostly, when I read The Prestige, I think I was just happy to find fiction with magicians (of the, uh, non-magical sort). The structure and the modern-set portion? Definitely the weak bits, and more or less left out of the film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Wrayburn says:

      Yeah, I think leaving those aspects out of the film was a very good choice on the filmmaker’s part. I would definitely be keen to read more books about illusionists though they seem few and far between.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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