by Christopher Priest
Library Journal: Notions of doubleness pervade this tale of a feud between the families ot two Victorian-era magicians. Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier have spent their careers trying to sabotage one another. When Borden ups the ante by developing a seemingly impossible trick in which he is moved across the stage in a unimaginable short time, Angier responds by enlisting inventor Nikola Tesla to build a turn-of-the-century version of a Star Trek-like transporter. The magicians' story is framed by that of two descendants, affected by the feud in ways they are only beginning to fathom, who meet at the Angier family's desolate country estate. Mixing elements of the psychological novel with fantasy, this is an inventive, if somewhat far-fetched, British neo-Gothic. For most collections.
Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, Mass. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms
Publisher's Weekly: Priest, one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists (1983 list), has not been overproductive since he made a small reputation with The Affirmation and The Glamour, published here more than a dozen years ago. His new novel (the title of which refers to the residue left after a magician's successful trick) is enthrallingly odd. In a carefully calculated period style that is remarkably akin to that of the late Robertson Davies, Priest writes of a pair of rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London. Each has a winning trick the other craves, but so arcane is the nature of these tricks, so incredibly difficult are they to perform, that they take on a peculiar life of their own--in one case involving a mysterious apparent double identity, in the other a reliance on the ferocious powers unleashed in the early experimental years of electricity. The rivalry of the two men is such that in the end, though both are ashamed of the strength of their feelings of spite and envy, it consumes them both, and affects their respective families for generations. This is a complex tale that must have been extremely difficult to tell in exactly the right sequence, while still maintaining a series of shocks to the very end. Priest has brought it off with great imagination and skill. It's only fair to say, though, that the book's very considerable narrative grip is its principal virtue. The characters and incidents have a decidedly Gothic cast, and only the restraint that marks the story's telling keeps it on the rails.
Copyright 1996 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms