1990s Fantasy

The Prestige – Christopher Priest

I am really pleased that I asked for literary science fiction recommendations as I don’t think I’d ever have found this book otherwise. I’m not convinced that The Prestige is literary or science fiction, but it is a fantastic read!

The Prestige follows two Victorian magicians who are battling to out-perform each other. The pair get locked in an increasingly bitter rivalry that leads them to commit acts so dark and secretive that their actions go on to affect several generations of their families.

Audiences know well that a magician will practice his illusions for years, and will rehearse each performance carefully, but few realise the extent of the prestigitator’s wish to deceive, the way in which the apparent defiance of normal laws becomes an obsession which governs every moment of his life.

I loved learning about the world of a stage magician – everything from how the magic tricks worked to their back stage life fascinated me.

It has been a long time since I last read a book so gripping that I walked around the house reading it; taking it to the kitchen as I couldn’t even bear to part with the story for the few minutes it takes to make a cup of coffee. Many of you will groan if I say this book reminded me of the Fingersmith, but I’m afraid it is the only book that I can compare it to. The Prestige is packed with Victorian atmosphere and has twists and turns equal to those in the masterpiece that is the Fingersmith.

The Prestige is written from the perspective of the two magicians and their grandchildren. It flips backwards and forwards in time, slowly revealing the truth about what went on. I loved the way all the characters drew slightly different conclusions from the same situation. Their subsequent thoughts and actions made so much sense once you’d seen things from their perspective. It was all just so cleverly done that I am still in awe of it.

The Prestige could fit into the science fiction/fantasy genre, but please don’t be put off by this. It would spoil the book if I let you know what happened, but the plot is written so convincingly that you feel as though it could have occurred. It isn’t much stranger than Gothic tales like The Seance or Her Fearful Symmetry.

I’m giving this book 5 stars, not because it is the best written book in the world (it isn’t), but because it is one of the most entertaining. The Prestige has become one of my top 20 books of all time. I’m sure you’ll soon be bored of me recommending it at every opportunity, so you might as well give in and get a copy now. 😆  

I am really excited to learn that Christopher Priest has written a lot of books and a few of them look as though they could be just as good.

This interview with Christopher Priest has made them sound even more appealing!

Have you read anything written by Christopher Priest?


I also watched the DVD as part of C.B. James’ Read The Book, See the Movie Challenge

Prestige DVD

The Prestige DVD is also very good, but the story is much simpler. Many of the twists and turns had been edited out, meaning that the book was far better than the film.

I admit that the film confused me a lot at first, although this was probably because the actors looked nothing like the images of the characters I’d built up in my head (and I am notoriously bad at recognising faces!).

The plot was also a bit different, so it was satisfying to watch straight after reading the book. I was never quite sure which bits would stay true to the book and which would take a whole new direction.

It was interesting to see the magic tricks performed on stage, but I have to admit that they were a bit disappointing. The book had conjured up fantastic images of amazing tricks, but the footage revealed the cheesy old magic that I’ve seen many times before.

I’d also warn all bird lovers to take care when watching this film – I was a bit distressed to learn the truth behind some of the bird tricks.

I’d recommend the film, but the book is far better, so I encourage you to read that first.

Have you watched The Prestige?

60 replies on “The Prestige – Christopher Priest”

I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, Jackie — it is one of my absolute favourites. I chose it for my old reading group, and it resulted in probably the most animated discussion in all my time there.

I haven’t read as much Priest as I oughtto myself; the only other novel of his that I’ve read is The Separation, but that was also excellent.

PS. If you liked the film of The Prestige, you might be interested to know that Priest has written a book about his experiences of the film being made (see

David, I can see why this book would make a fantastic book club choice – there is so much to talk about!

I already have a copy of The Separation, but I think I may save it for a while as I don’t want to read all his books at once. Thank you for introducing me to such a wonderful author.

I really enjoyed the film when it was released; at the time I saw it I didn’t know it was based on a book and only learned that later.

You may also enjoy “Eisenheim the Illusionist”, a short story by Steven Millhauser. The film adaptation of The Illusionist was released around the same time as The Prestige and it is reductive to compare them but very difficult not to as both contain magic shows, mystery, suspense and intrigue.

Claire, I almost watched The Illusionist at the weekend (it was on TV!) but in the end I got distracted and forgot about it. Perhaps that is a good thing as I can now go out and read the story first!! Thanks for the recommendation!

I meant to comment on this post but it slipped my mind (I often read blogs on my phone, so I can’t comment at the time of reading. Only when I get in front of computer.) I did not know The Illusionist is taken from a short story! Like Claire I watched both the Illusionist and the Prestige when they were out in cinema (weird how they came out around the same time) and often compare them. Anyway, I have forgotten a lot of the details but remember both to be as good, so when you can, watch The Illusionist too. It’s so great to hear how good The Prestige book is. I almost forget everything in the movie, so it should be a good time for me to read it anytime now.

mee, I watched The Illusionist over the weekend. I loved the period atmosphere and much of the initial story, but was disappointed by the ending as I had guessed the twist. The Prestige was much better. I guess I’d give The Illusionist DVD 3.5/5 stars. I hope you decide to read The Prestige and love it as much as I did.

I remember seeing this film a few years ago on dvd, but I didn’t realize it was based on the book. I don’t recall much of the plot at all, so perhaps I’ll check out the book. I’m glad you found one you loved!

I would never have thought to read this book because when I watched the film version, I was really disappointed (and kind of angered by it as well!). I thought the movie started off really clever, but I didn’t like how it devolved into this crazy world where the rules of science didn’t seem to apply anymore, and that really bothered me. Does the book rely on a similar twist at the end, or was that something created for the film?

Steph, I’m afraid that the book does rely on a similar science defying twist. I’m normally annoyed by sudden disregard for science, but the book didn’t unfold in the same way as the film. The film was quite abrupt – throwing the twist out on an unsuspecting audience, but when reading the book you are in on it a lot earlier. The science defying part is built into the plot reasonably early on and so I could accept it and had fun trying to get my head around the possible consquences of such things. I’m not sure whether you’d enjoy the book now that you are annoyed by a major part of it? I’d love to find out though!

BuriedInPrint, I didn’t realise that the Deptford Trilogy had magic in it. I’m halfway through the Rebel Angel Trilogy so I better finish that first, but you’ve made The Deptford trilogy appeal to me now 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation!

I nominated this for our reading group a couple of years ago before the film came out, and it was mostly well received, although some didn’t feel the modern strand worked so well, although there was a great Gothic horror feel to the denouement.

I loved it and have been recommending it ever since. The film was slightly different and also excellent. I particularly liked Michael Caine in it who gave great support.

I’ve got most of Priest’s other books now, but have yet to read them – must rectify that!

Annabel, I agree that the modern strand wasn’t as good, but I think that was mainly because it lacked that delicious Victorian atmosphere, rather than because there was any real fault to it. I thought that the modern sections really added to the overall plot, something the film was missing. It is great to know that you enjoyed this too – I hope you decide to read some more Priest soon and let me know whether you love them just as much.

Study Window, Parts of the story are told twice, but this happens much less than in Fingersmith. There is a lot of flipping backwards/forwards in time so the stories often overlap, rather than repeat themselves.

I’m not particularly fond of magicians in life or reading, but this one has always sounded like so much more. I would really liked to read it–moreso after your review. Library, here I come!

Andi, I am a massive fan of magicians – I am always impressed by their skill. If you aren’t a fan of magic then this may not be for you, but I’ll be interested to see what a non magic lover makes of it all!

A book being compared to Fingersmith? Okay, I’m sold!

I might be one of the few people out there who hasn’t heard of the book, and has vaguely heard of the movie, but never really acknowledged its existence. However, I’m going to be trying to seek this out, once I reduce my unread shelf to half its size(!)

Thanks for the review.

anothercookiecrumbles, I hadn’t heard of the book or the film until a few weeks ago so you are doing better than me 🙂 I hope that you enjoy it.

It is truly a fantastic book. I appreciated the difference in plot from the movie, probably because I read the book after. I was initially worried that the story would evolve in the same way and at the same pace but I was pleasantly surprised. I, too, brought this book with me everywhere. I could not tear my eyes away from it!

Also, I really enjoyed David Bowie as Tesla! I didn’t expect it but Bowie’s stoic demeanor really worked for the role, I thought.

Lydia, I can’t imagine watching the film first. I normally don’t like doing that as I visualise the characters as being the actors. I did have the reverse problem in this case, so perhaps it doesn’t really matter! It is good to know that it had you gripped, despite the fact that you knew roughly what was happening.

I’m afraid that I’m rubbish at facial recognition and so didn’t even spot that Bowie was Tesla. Sorry! He was fantastic though 🙂

I loved the movie but sure wish I had read the book first. But it sounds like I could still read the book and not have it spoiled by the movie given that the book has many more twists and turns. And a book that you had to walk around the house reading has to be good!

Kathleen, I’m afraid that some aspects of the book will be ruined by having seen the film first. The good news is that you won’t know which bits!!

I saw the movie last year. I remember that it took a while to warm up to, but that I did become involved in the story. I also remember that I had some trouble going along with the non-science parts of it, too. But in the end, I liked it.

I didn’t even know there was a book.

Have you read Carter Beats the Devil? It’s about magiacians in 19th century San Francisco. I thought it was a very entertaining read.

And, can I add how much I like the photo you picked to represent your reading. I think it does represent your reading about as well as any single photo could. My problem with the challenge is choosing one photo. I’d really like to do short montage, myself.

cbjames, I haven’t read Carter Beats the Devil, but the name sounds familiar – I think I may have a copy. I didn’t realise that it was about magicians. I’ll have to see if I can find it.

I really needed a photo montage too! It is so hard to narrow things down to a single one. I would love to know which images you picked, even if it did involve a series. Thanks for hosting this challenge!

Violet, The Victorian era always seem to create a more interesting atmosphere than other periods of time. So many fantastic books are set then. I hope you enjoy The Prestige!

I was quite taken by the movie. And now you’ve got me interested in the book 🙂 I also like science fiction. Might I recommend the works of Octavia Butler. Enjoy reading the genre.

Michele, I do seem to be following your blog closely at the moment – I got The Name of the Wind out of the library this morning. It looks really good 🙂

Well, now I really have to read the book. I´ve only seen the film, but liked it a lot. And the Victorian age and magicians, it´s an unbeatable combo 🙂

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