Tor / 378 pages / Reprint, 15 September 1997
Word association: If I say “obsession,” and the first words that leap to mind are “Calvin Klein,” you, my dear, are a little bit too immersed in pop culture. Turn off the TV. Put aside those tabloids you swear you don’t buy. Banish the next superhero flame war from your mind. The Prestige is about to educate you on the subject… fast.
It isn’t that every character in this novel is obsessed, only the ones we get to know by name. One hundred years separate them, but, it is the secrets of yesterday that join them — even as they are coming apart.
Andrew Westley is your average young reporter. He is assigned more than his share of oddball stories, but he is working, and just barely keeping his head above the middle-class water. Oh, and, despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes he has a twin brother.
Kate Angier is a young lady living in genteel poverty. She occupies one wing of her family home, while the rest is let to a religious cult. That hardly makes her strange. And, just incidentally, she believes she witnessed a murder when she was a child. This and some journals are what she wishes to share with Westley.
Step back one hundred-ish years and meet Alfred Borden (The Great Danton), stage magician, illusionist, and family man. If he’s a bit too focussed on one illusion, The Transported Man, that’s only because he wants to make it the best one ever. That, and be the greatest magician of all time.
Also campaigning for this coveted prize: Rupert Angier. A fine performer in his own right, and possibly even more devoted family man. His showpiece — In A Flash. In his opinion, never to be duplicated or bettered.
More than enough obsession to rule and ruin two lives? Well, they also despise each other. To be quite honest, there is precious little to like about either one. The chronicles of their lives is a rapid downhill slide from youthful enthusiasm to disintegrating sanity. With the profusion of lies and misdirection, it isn’t difficult to join the slide.
When it comes to illusions, there are two kinds of people: those who must know how a trick is done and those who see the end result (the prestige) and think, “That’s nice.” Neither group is off the hook here; the magic of the novel is insidious and inescapable. The Prestige is like a murder scene — you want to look away, but you just can’t.