Monday, December 11, 2017

Christopher Priest's: The Prestige A Book Review

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After watching Christopher Nolan’s film version of The Prestige countless times, I finally got around to reading Christopher Priest’s novel on which Nolan based his film. In part to clarify what Nolan did for a film theory class I teach, I endeavored to see how the novel is presented and the depth of the text itself. Presented as three dueling narratives, Priest attacks the magicians’ battle in an intriguing way. 

Starting with the near present, we are presented with the descendants of both Borden and Angier. While neither is particularly knowledgeable of their ancestors’ past, they stumble into each other almost by chance. It is here that we discover a mysterious death (of Borden’s great grandson or his twin) and meticulous records preserved by Lord Caldlow. At this point, the reader is exposed to two diaries, first we see the events from the perspective of Borden and then Angier, before a final ending climax between their last remaining heirs.   

Starting with a humble beginning we see everything that leads Borden to be a magician and, from his perspective/perspectives, the reader understands the battle he wages with Angier. Spanning decades, at times Borden seeks to leave the duel, but the games of one-upmanship keep the best of him. Even in their final interaction, Borden struggles, not wanting to interrupt Angier’s take on Borden’s trick but unable to stop himself from understanding the secret at the same time. In Borden’s mind, the reader feels mystique and wonder and pain. Much more so than in Nolan’s film, the conceit is played out right before the reader’s eyes, and this secret keeps the pages turning.

Conversely, we inhabit Angier’s journal as well. He teaches us of the struggles of being the second son of a wealthy family and the intense pain that the loss of a loved one can cause. He digs into his drive to be a great magician, to support his family, and to do something that he is not that good at to begin with. He too enlightens the reader to the battle, the drive to achieve, and in his eyes we discover the tricks of Borden. The interplay between the two, the back and forth, pushes the novel. While at times it drags, keeping the tricks back almost as a joke, at others it plunges forward in mysticism and the unexpected. A strong read for those looking to be entertained, and for fans of the film, for those who want to know all the stories and the variances therein, check it out.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: A Book Review

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I have to say that I arrived at Neil Gaiman’s American Gods ashamedly late. That said, the text has done nothing but inspire and enthrall. At the core, the text follows Shadow, a recently paroled convict, as he works for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, a divine presence who is gathering forces for a divine battle. Behind this conceit rests the interplay of forces that have been gathering in the continent since the era of the land bridge isthmus first brought human life into the area: as the myriad of social groups, ethnicities, and religions have immigrated to the America’s what has become of their gods? With a sharp eye detail, Gaiman crafts an existence where our landscape is riddled with the divine leavings of yesteryear.

Thus Odin, Leprechauns, and monoliths live among us. These creatures, once revered, are still instilled with power, but they are no longer in power. No longer are sacrifices made, no longer are prayers offered, but yet they remain eking out an existence. It is here that Gaiman catches the reader. We can buy this idea. We can accept that once we prayed to Odin and killed in his name, the man came to be here. He occupied and ruled, until that is he didn’t. While Shadow offers a unique take of life, and Gaiman crafts an enthralling yarn that loops throughout existence, the believability factor of the mystical holds one’s attention far longer.

So if you like fantasy, if you enjoy an epic journey and an end of times war, give this novel a shout. Even if you pay too much for STARZ and watch the TV show, either way, the read is worth time.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist: A Book Review

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In terms of a coming of age, hero’s journey, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist covers all of the bases. The work of fiction follows the journey of young Santiago through the trials and tribulations of life as he seeks his treasure. This treasure, something he imagined buried at the base of the great pyramids, stands as a goal within all of us. Essentially our potential, the dream we want and desire to reach but rarely take the chances to do so.

Thus Santiago is met with temptation throughout his journey. Should he abandon life as a shepherd and confront his prophetic and mystical dreams or should he understand his sheep, settle down, and talk to the girl he loves? From the opening pages, he is confronted with the reoccurrence of choice—he always seems to prosper, to improve a situation, and thus to maximize his ability. Such maximization forces the young soul to decide if he should stay put, sow roots, or move on. These questions, especially from an adult perspective, ring true as the hero must decide what he wants to be and how he wants to get there. In essence and actuality, he must learn to turn lead into gold.

The end result of said journey is obvious from page one, anyone who has read an archetypal hero epic will recognize the elements, yet the inspiration rings true. Destiny and dreams dance on the fringes of the plot, and while religious precepts intermingle, there is more emphasis on the spiritual than religious ideal with Coelho inspiring the entire time.