The Adjacent by Christopher Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a difficult book to review, because I imagine it would be very polarizing. Some people would love it, and some people would hate it. I personally fell on the side of loving it. But I admit, it's unconventional.
"The Adjacent" is one of the most unusual books I've ever read. It's not that the story is confusing. It's not that the story is mysterious. It's not that the story defies definition. It's not that the ending is shocking. It's that the novel is all of these and more. It's more like a series of short stories than an actual novel. However, the stories are all interconnected in terms of sharing common characters and themes. But at the same time, some of the stories place characters in different locations and times, and even contradict each other.
Most of the story takes place in the future, where the world is in the grip of mysterious terrorist attacks. A powerful beam of light strikes a perfectly triangular area and incinerates everything within it. One attack took the life of the wife of Tibor Tarent, a photojournalist. He's on a journey through a dystopian Britain, controlled by an Islamic government, to be debriefed about the attack while mourning his wife. At the same time, we meet Tommy Trent, a magician in World War One. He's been recruited by the British Air Force to find a way to make planes invisible. While he enjoys the prestige and getting to meet his hero H.G. Wells, he struggles to perform a magic trick that could save or cost lives. And if that's not enough, we also jump to World War II, where an RAF technician falls in love with a beautiful pilot, who's seeking out her lost lover. Oh, and we also go to the Dream Archipelago, a fictional island where a young man dares to become a magician, in a city where such abstract performances are frowned upon.
If the story lines seem entirely unconnected, then you see the genius of Priest. The stories start out feeling like a series of discordant short stories, but common themes begin emerging. Like all the main characters have names that start with the letter "T." As the novel goes on, we see more and more connections. Events in one story are referenced in another. Characters from one appear in the others. But just when you think you've figured out the connection, things start changing. And then Priest throws in parallel universes. I don't want to say too much, but I will say the novel is mind-blowing at times. In a good way.
At times, the novel is hard to follow. But what I loved about the book is that Priest makes no apologies. He could have chosen to turn any one of the storylines into its own novel, but combines them together in ways that are surprising and entertaining. He's making a statement about the interconnectedness of time, space, and life itself. I could see how some readers might be frustrated, but I liked that Priest allowed the story to challenge. Especially towards the end, when things get downright bizarre.
My only real complaint is that the novel doesn't really end in a simple way. There's no attempt by Priest to explain everything that happened. For example, he never explained why the future Britain is depicted as an Islamic state. Some of the storylines also end without their own sense of closure. And the final pages are completely disorienting without any easy answers.
But that's what I loved. I enjoy stories that make me think, and this novel made me think a lot. It's also beautifully written with wonderful characters. It's definitely one of the more extraordinary sci-fi novels I've ever read.
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