Dark Ravens, not White Doves, Emerge from the Magician’s Hat
Christopher Priest is adept at mangling the mind of an unwary (and even a wary!) reader; all his books tangle, darkly, with our perceptions of reality and identity. His new novel, The Adjacent, is no exception, weaving his lifelong themes of shifting realities, alternate and parallel realities of time and place, and the alternate and parallel life of individual identity itself.
Other Priest meta themes to be woven in are prestidigitation, illusion and magic, state control, dystopia, mankind’s heavy and bellicose footprint across the landscape of our history, and the lies and deceptions of our, public relations spin accounts of our time and culture, and the dark and shadowy underbelly of social control and our nightmare, `uncivil’ selves.
The Adjacent weaves a story through several settings, beginning with a post-apocalyptic world, some 40 or 50 years ahead of today. Physicists have found another way of manipulating matter, which, similarly to the splitting of the atom, can be (and will be) used in the service of destruction and control, however much the invention may have been designed as `pure science for the good’.
The effects of global terrorism, environmental damage and twenty-first century religious wars have changed our world forever.
Frighteningly, as so often with Priest, none of this really seems like science fiction – the only factor which isn’t clearly visible over the horizon – or already here – is `Adjacency’ (which I shan’t spell out, it is for the reader to discover)
There is a flipping back and forth between post-apocalytic twenty-first century, the First World War and the Second World War, and, to continue Priest’s other territory of islands, specifically post-apocalytic islands, we revisit some earlier landscapes from his previous novels The Islanders and The Dream Archipelago.
More, I will not say, there are love stories within here, and a surprising (but perfectly apposite) appearance of a pertinent author, but even to mention characters is to destroy the careful series of shocks and recognitions which it will be the reader’s pleasure to discover.
In effect, with his interest in stage magicians and their world, I always feel as if Priest’s readers ought to become, in effect, bound by the rules of the Magician’s Circle, and NOT reveal Priest’s tricks!
I did have a slight feeling of let-down with the ending of this one, and that is all I will say against this book.
An earlier criticism, which is that Priest cannot inhabit female sensibility well, and that there is always a certain coldness and detachment in his accounts of sexual encounters between men and women, something which feels like a flaw, an over-cerebral approach to the possibility of human warmth, did dissolve away, rather, late on the book.
Priest remains a deeply disturbing, sometimes a little chilly and cerebral, but ALWAYS challenging, unsettling and thought provoking, writer. Wallpaper, muzak, marshmallow writer he is NOT. Rather a pearl from the grit in the oyster kind!
I have been an uneasy, sometimes uncomfortable, admirer of Priest’s writing for nearly twenty years, since first encountering The Glamour which may well have been the first of his novels to escape from being sidelined by the often dismissive Sci-Fi label. Priest indeed being one of the authors (along with Doris Lessing, Ursula K.Le Guin, and John Wyndham, not to mention H.G. Wells) to sternly tell me not be so snobby, narrow minded and dismissive, and to realise its not the genre, it’s the WRITING I should look at.
The unease, by the way, is caused by the often scarily prescient quality of Priest’s vision. His is uncomfortable and challenging, not escapist, literature