The Adjacent, by Christopher Priest
Posted August 12, 2015on:
where I got it: borrowed from a friend
I enjoyed reading The Adjacent, and I’d be lying if I said a large portion of the book didn’t have me on the edge of my seat. But still, I can’t tell you what this book is about. That’s not because i don’t want to spoil things for you, it’s because I simply have no idea what the book was about.
I borrowed this book from a friend, who described it as “a mental mind f*ck””, which is as apt a description as any. The few sentences on the back of the book mention two characters who have similar names but otherwise shouldn’t have anything in common, and a physicist who discovers a weaponizable secret. How is all this might be related is an understandable and expected question.
The story opens with photographer Tibor Trent, recently returned to England after his wife Melanie was killed in the Anatolian field hospital they both worked in. This near-future England isn’t anything you or I would recognize. Much of the land is burnt to slag, the face of the ruling government isn’t what most people would expect, and Tibor is kept oddly isolated, often guarded or greeted by people who refuse to speak to him. It’s not so much post-apocalyptic as it is post shock-and-awe. Tibor is waiting for his debriefing appointment, to explain to someone the enemy weapon that killed his wife, that left nothing behind but a blackened perfect triangle.
Elsewhen, stage magician Tommy Trent is on his way to the Western Front. What could the muddied trenches possibly need a stage entertainer for? When Tommy learns of the true reason he’s been called to the front, he realizes he’s in far too deep. Told in first person, Tommy tells the reader he is a professional misleader. He also gives an early and helpful definition of how adjacency is applied to the art of stage magic:
“The magician places two objects close to each other, or connects them in some way, but one is made to be more interesting (or intriguing, or amusing) to the audience. It might have an odd ot suggestive shape, or it appears to have something inside it, or it suddenly starts doing something the magician seems not to have noticed. The actual set-up is unimportant – what matters most is that the audience, however briefly, should become interested and look away in the wrong direction”
Tibor’s surreal story is continually interrupted to bring the reader snippets of other stories. Such as the flight mechanic Mike Torrance, stationed at Tealby Moor, who becomes infatuated with the immigrant pilot Krystyna Roszca. She entrusts Mike with her childhood nickname Malina, and tells him of her lost lover Tomasz. After the war ends however, Torrance is able to find little evidence of Roszca’s existence. There is also the storyline that takes place on the island of Prachous, involving recently arrived illusionist Thom the Thaumaturge, whose incredible new show closes with a never seen before illusion, one which could cost him his life. Before the show’s opening, Thom realizes he’s being stalked by a strange woman named Kirstenya Rosscky (she goes by Mellanya Ross) and insists on calling him Tomak, and swears that once they were in love.
The similarities in the storylines, and especially the similarities in people’s names had me thinking of Cloud Atlas (I’ve only seen the movie, not read the book). You can tell these stories *should* be related, have got to be related somehow, but it’s so difficult to see through the mist that what you think you’re seeing might just be shadows in the clouds. The plotlines in The Adjacent stretch across time and space, different times, different place, different people. Or perhaps they don’t. Perhaps it’s just the same story, told over and over.
I kept coming back to Tommy Trent’s descriptions of how magicians trick audiences. That stage illusions are pure entertainment, yet still they take months and sometimes years of practice. Priest presented me with an impassable triangle of names and faces – men with “T” first names, women with “M” and “K” first names (or even M.T, or T.M names and places). It was a misty shape, one I couldn’t see through or understand the edges of, yet its sharp corners were unmistakeable. Which was the true storyline, and which was the flashier, adjacent trick? Where was I supposed to be looking, and which curtain should I have tried to look behind? I looked everywhere. I followed every story, yet made no attempt to peek behind a curtain or even find one to shift aside. The Adjacent is more proof of concept than plot driven novel. The illusion was complete, with Priest having complete control over me, as a reader. When the triangle became a circle, I had no idea how it had even happened.
This is my first Christopher Priest, so I have a question for those of you who are well read in his works. Is it normal that I have no idea what just happened?