A few years ago someone put sent me a copy of The Prestige by Christopher Priest with a note saying, ‘I think you’ll like this’. It was the first of his books I’d read. It wasn’t the last because it introduced me to a great writer of ideas and creator of moments that live long in the memory. The Prestige, in magician’s talk, is the name for the third and final part of a magic trick (the first two being The Pledge and The Turn), the idea being that without The Prestige a trick is meaningless. It’s not enough to show a rabbit to the audience and then to make it disappear, you have to bring it back too.
There was a movie made of The Prestige a couple of years ago and for once it’s a pretty decent version of the book, capturing the lifelong feud between two Victorian stage magicians, each trying to steal the other’s secrets, upstage his rival, and throw a spanner in his works metaphorically speaking, to boot. It’s a novel that captures perfectly something I was trying to address in The Book of Dead Days where the boundary between science and stage magic and real magic lies, and to my mind, no one has done that better that Priest in this novel. But what’s missing from the film is an entire half of the novel, concerning a modern story of a journalist uncovering the story of the warring magicians. And that’s a shame, because it provides the creepiest ending to any book I have ever read. And that’s why I love it so much, and why I wish I’d written it myself.
The Prestige by Christopher Priest is published by Gollancz (978 0 5750 7580 1, £7.99 pbk).
Marcus Sedgwick’s The Book of Dead Days (978 1 8425 5267 4, £6.99 pbk) is published by Orion. His latest book, Midwinterblood (978 1 7806 2009 1 £9.99 hbk), is published by Indigo.