“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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“The act of keeping the secret a secret has almost become bigger than the secret itself.”// Review of “Disclaimer” by Renee Knight

Title: Disclaimer
Author: Renee Knight
Audio book narrator: Michael Pennington, Laura Paton
Genre: Thriller
Date Read: 19/05/2016 – 23/05/2016
Rating: ★★★


This is a really interesting book which I devoured quite quickly, even on audio (often I only listen to an hour or two a day but I finished all eight-and-a-half hours of this in three days); however, some predictability and suspension of disbelief issues resulted in a lower rating.

Catherine Ravenscroft is shocked when she discovers that the novel she is reading reveals intimate details of the darkest day of her life. As her life starts to fall apart as a result, she tries to track down the author, only to find his plans are becoming even more sinister.

The thing about a book like this is that it is structured in such a way to gradually reveal more information to the reader. Which is fine, but that means that the characters say and do things to prolong the tension that start to feel unrealistic after a while. It took me a while to figure out the exact nature of Catherine’s secret, once I did, I wondered why she hadn’t just, well, told someone. Yes, it was a huge thing and I could understand why she had kept to herself up until that point, but with everything falling apart, simply being honest with her husband could have saved a whole lot of bother. But of course, that would have meant half the book wouldn’t have happened.

I also raised my eyebrows at a few of the assumptions the book made. For a start, the author of the novel that scares Catherine so much self-publishes it and leaves a copy in her mailbox. The author (I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, so hence my lack of pronouns) is obsessed with finding out whether or not she has read it, but what if she had been reading something else at the time? Or knew she hadn’t ordered it, so she donated it to gave it to someone else? Not to mention that the actual events described differ greatly from ends up in the novel, so apart from one scene right at the end, why does Catherine recognise herself at all?

I also found  myself easily predicting some of the author’s actions, which was a bit disappointing. Usually I’m useless at predicting things, especially in something that’s supposed to be a thriller.

Still, some of these questions are sort of addressed, and the character of the author, whose POV chapters alternate with Catherine’s, was one I both enjoyed and disliked at the same time, so I was willing to let things slide. Unfortunately, those questions, plus the fact that I found it hard to really embrace and connect with any of the main characters, meant that while I found the book enjoyable, I did not find it incredible.

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“Isn’t the ‘human factor’ what connects us so deeply to our past?” // Review of World War Z by Max Brooks

Title: World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks
Audio book narrator: Max Brooks, various others
Genre: Horror/Dystopia
Date Read: 11/05/2016 – 18/05/2016
Rating: ★★★☆


worldwarzcoverI’m not usually a fan of zombies. They just don’t really do it for me. But being a librarian/archivist, and knowing that this book was written in oral history format made me interested. I’ve seen reviews recently for Sleeping Giants, which compared it to this book, and that gave me the prompt to finally look this book up. When I saw the audio book was available, I jumped on it, since it seemed like a perfect on to listen to.

After the Zombie War, Max Brooks sets out to tell the stories of the survivors. He had already conducted many of these interviews for use in the report to the United Nations, but these were removed for being too personal, for containing too much of the “human factor”. While the UN wants facts and figures, Max feels that these stories are the best way to preserve the stories of the human race’s resilience for future generations.

Unlike many zombie stories that simply focus on the USA, this one examines the effects of a zombie outbreak across the whole world. It deals with issues that could easily affect a global emergency of any kind, such as lack of government response, public panic, and large companies taking advantage of the situation. It is quite easy to imagine things like phony vaccines being pushed through the FTA, a small nuclear war breaking out between Middle-Eastern states desperate to stop refugees crossing their borders.

I do agree with the reviewers who said that the format of the book means the stakes aren’t very high. The premise is that Max Brooks travelled around after the war, interviewing survivors. There is no need to wonder if these characters survived the situations they were facing; we know they did because they are here telling the story. The fact that we only ever got to hear from each character for one chapter also limited the connection that the reader can form with any of them. However, I do think the format was very clever for the examination of global society that Brooks was clearly aiming for. Even though we only visit these characters once, the story of the war, from outbreak to victory, unfolds in a well-structured way.

The audio book was done very well; Max Brooks played himself/the interviewer and each interviewee had a different narrator, which gave them real character. I did have one qualm with the way the way it was recorded though. Often in audio books, when the text says a character laughs, the narrator actually does just that. Instead of making this recording sound like a real oral history by adding those little things in, it sounded more like the various narrators were reading an oral history transcript, with Max Brooks interjecting with footnotes, or describing the person’s actions. I imagined things were probably inside square brackets in the text, like [laughs] or [is silent for a while]. While it was still good to listen to, I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity, given how well the format could have translated to audio.