This book is difficult to review. It’s not that I am conflicted about it; I loved it. This story is a finely woven tapestry of the passing of time. What can I say? It’s about time. It’s about how we pass time and what happens when we lose time. It’s about the time that we pass when we are away from loved ones and the time we pass alone.
This novel is definitely science fiction. It is, in fact, about time traveling. With this book Priest returns to the Dream Archipelago of previous novels and short stories. Alesandro Sussken is a musician and lives in the Republic of Gaund but he dreams of seeing the Dream Archipelago. His home country has been at war for years, as far back as he can remember. When young people are of age they are sent off to fight and return at a later date. Gaund has been ravaged by the ongoing war. It is worn down and thin, washed out. The Islands he can see off in the distance are alluring.
Alesandro sees his brother leave for war and continues with his life. His musical talent is innate and he progresses quickly to composing. He is very talented. So talented he finds he is dealing with another musician re-working his pieces and releasing them on distant islands.
Then Alesandro is given a remarkable opportunity. He’s offered the chance to travel to the islands of the Dream Archipelago and perform some of his music. While traveling on a variety of sea-going vessels, Alessandro is told that he must always carry his assigned stave. The stave is a mystery to everyone on the tour. It seems to have no markings, doesn’t open and is very important.
After a few weeks, the tour returns home and Alesandro discovers that he’s lost time. Months have passed while he was traveling for weeks. His entire life is in an uproar; his parents are deceased, his wife has moved on and his brother still hasn’t returned from the war.
It turns out there is some mysterious shifting of time as people travel between the mysterious island that the composer had always wanted to visit. The effect of time shifting can be alleviated by people called the Adept but it is a confusing process and almost seems nonsensical to Alessandro.
I won’t try to recount any more of the plot because I don’t feel this is a novel that is about one person’s story. It’s so much more than a plot. This novel is about the gradual passing of time and the changes that it causes in our lives. It’s a reflection on how we notice some things immediately and others we don’t notice at all.
I would absolutely suggest that you read this marvelous piece of writing. Christopher Priest is a master of prose and a remarkable story-teller. You may already be familiar with his work if you’ve seen the film “The Prestige.” If you enjoyed “The Prestige” I’m certain you will enjoy “The Gradual.” It’s available now.
Alesandro grows up in Glaud, a fascist state constantly at war with a faceless opponent. His brother is sent off to war; his family is destroyed by grief. Occasionally he catches glimpses of islands in the far distance from the shore, and they feed into the music he composes—music for which he is feted. His search from his brother brings him into contact with the military leadership and suddenly he is a fugitive on the run—he seeks refuge on the islands and his endless travels take him through places and time, bringing him answers where he could not have foreseen them.
A rich and involving tale of the creative mind, the rigours of living under war and the nature of time itself.
- ISBN: 9781785653032
- Dimensions: 5 1/8” x 8”
- Hardback with DJ: 304pp
- Publication date: September 20 2016
- All authors:
Christopher Priest has long proved to be a master few are aware of (if so, they have read The Prestige or watched Nolan’s adaptation). I recently read The Affirmation (1981) and was blown away…
I should also point out that, at least in other works, The Dream Archipelago is a fractured psychological state and not so much a “real” place. And thus, generic certainty (if it is even useful) is sort of a fruitless task….
I’m definitely going to be heading back to read some of his other work. I read The Adjacent – but that was my first
Yeah, I’ve read mostly his pre-1981 stuff (more the focus of my site). I do recommend his short stories as well! The collection An Infinite Summer (1979) is near perfect in my opinion.
my review, if you’re curious: