Reviews for The Adjacent


EXTRACTS FROM REVIEWS. The full review can be found on the link. (For other reviews, see the end of this page.)

James Buxton, Daily Mail

Love, loss and lust are staples of human experience; parallel realities and multiple universes are the stuff of fantasy. Or are they?

In one of his finest novels, Priest explores the interaction between the world we think we understand and the laws of physics – and the bafflements that follow.

Each world cleverly resonates with the others through geography, names and human behaviour but this is no dry exercise: it’s an expertly paced, beautifully written exploration of the human condition that teases, fascinates and grips.


Lady Fancifull — Lady Fancifull

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 it’s 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.


Antony Jones — SFBookReviews

Christopher Priest is without a doubt one of the finest writers alive today. Rather than compromise his stories for the sake of easy understanding Priest writes undiluted and it’s up to the reader to pay attention; to digest and to consider what the story really means, or at the very least what it means for them. That’s not to say his books aren’t easy to read, they are.

It’s refreshing that he doesn’t map out everything or sugar coat his work and to be honest if 90% of authors tried this it probably wouldn’t work, but for Priest it does – mainly due to his linguistic skill and gifted intellect.

The title says it all, really — The Adjacent makes sense in many different ways although it will probably take you most of the novel to really understand this (or even a re-read or two), the author even has the reader feeling a sense of “displacement” in the second part of the book. It is important to understand that to really enjoy this book you need to enjoy the way it makes you feel as much as you enjoy figuring out what’s actually going on. There is however a very fine story for those looking, a love story even that crosses time and alternative dimensions.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to read a novel by someone with 70 years’ life experience whose talent has improved with each of his thirteen novels (written as Christopher Priest with another three books written under pseudonyms) spanning some forty-three years. Or if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to read a Campbell, Clarke, BSFA and World Fantasy Award winning author who just keeps on improving. Or if you want to read something for the way it makes you feel as much as the way the story unfolds – then The Adjacent is for you, just don’t expect it to make a whole heap of sense on the first read.


Sam Leith — The Guardian

The Adjacent is a continually intriguing story in which promising more than it delivers is the guiding principle. It’s like zooming in on a Mandelbrot set. Each answer you arrive at raises another set of questions.

The intellectual engines of Priest’s banjaxing story are the many-worlds hypothesis and the idea of eternal recurrence. Through its emotional centre runs a sentimental love story with a whiff of Cocteau’s L’éternel retour. But the big reveal is that there isn’t a big reveal: symmetries are skewed. Nothing exactly adds up. You can be blasted into la-la-land with an adjacency weapon and fly out in a world war two Spitfire. You can travel in time as well as in space. You can encounter – as Tarent seems to – both a living version of yourself and a dead one. Weird stuff, essentially, happens – as, in an infinite multitude of interpenetrating universes, you might expect it to.

But there’s no question that you turn from one page to the next with absorption and enjoyment – and that if The Adjacent leaves you unsatisfied, that’s not a matter of indifference. It’s better to set too many hares running, in other words, than to set too few.


Adam Roberts, Sibilant Fricative

The Adjacent reads like late Priest—I use the qualifier in the sense in which art historians and literary critics talk of a ‘late style’. He’s only 70, and hopefully has many more novels to write; but to read The Adjacent is in part to engage with the whole of Priest’s oeuvre. Many of his perennial fascinations are here: stage magic and sleight of hand; doubles and twins; the observer or surveillant photographer character who finds it hard actually to engage with real life (as in The Glamour); world war two and its aircraft. Priest’s characters are displaced: they live in countries other than those of their birth, for instance; they are orphans, or their hearts belong to people who have died—or who seem to have died. The whole is written in a clean, unfussy, extremely effective style.

We start with a man bereaved of the love of his life; and by the end—somehow, without straining credulity or outraging our sense of practical or emotional rightness—he brings the dead woman back. It’s an Alcestis-trick of great skill and heart, and it works. This is a superb novel, written by an artist at not only the height but also the breadth of his powers.


Ben Felsenburg — Metro

Christopher Priest defies categorisation. Best known for The Prestige (filmed by Christopher Nolan) and World War II alternate reality novel The Separation, he emerged from the radically inventive period of British science fiction that centred on New Worlds magazine in the 1960s.

However, such genre terms are as inadequate in describing his work as they are that of J. G. Ballard. In the mesmerising puzzles that are his tales, Priest scratches away at reality, beguiling and befuddling until the reader hardly knows which way is up or down. The Adjacent, his latest novel of alternate realities and multiple interlocking universes, is likely to start blazing rows between readers over what exactly happened.

The concluding section provides some answers and a sense of the parameters of the imaginings and deception, and will both unsettle and pleasantly surprise readers of Priest’s last novel, The Islanders, with a return to the strange topography of the Dream Archipelago. But the deeply infused sense of mystery here cannot be dispelled with simple revelations. Priest leaves us with much to ponder not only about what is real or not within the terms of his own creation but, finally, about the unknowability of the world beyond its pages.


Adam Whitehead — The Wertzone

Reviewing a Christopher Priest novel is like trying to take a photograph of a car speeding past you at 100mph without any warning. You are, at the very best, only going to capture an indistinct and vague image of what the object is. Photography, perspective and points of view play a major role in Priest’s latest novel, as do some of his more familiar subjects: stage magic, WWII aircraft and the bizarre world of the Dream Archipelago. The Adjacent is a mix of the familiar and the strange, the real and the unreal, the lucid and the dreamlike. It’s the novel as a puzzle, as so many of Priest’s books are, except that Priest hasn’t necessarily given you all the pieces to the same puzzle.

The future world he paints is convincing as well as disturbing. His central characters – many of whom seem to be doubles or reflections of one another – are convincing and detailed, with their growing frustration as events become more bizarre and inexplicable well-depicted. It also helps that all of the puzzles and mysteries surround that simplest and most traditional of narratives: a love story.

The Adjacent is puzzling, brilliant, frustrating, page-turning, disturbing and absorbing. It is traditional Priest.


Paul Di Filippo — Locus

The fiction writer must exhibit many virtues and talents to be acclaimed. The ability to create living characters; the ability to plot and pace; the ability to convey moods and emotions; the ability to describe reality; the ability to invent; the ability to report; the ability to philosophize and moralize and instruct; the ability to create symbols and allegories; the ability to create beautiful sentences and figurative language. There are more abstract virtues and qualities as well. Italo Calvino, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, famously explicated his six essentials as lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity and consistency. Samuel Delany has plumped for Begeisterung, inspiration, or literally “be-spirited-ness.”

But there is one talent that might rank as the most abstract and refined and demanding and, consequently, the rarest of all, and that is patterning. The ability to array incidents and characters and information and symbols in subtle, unobtrusive yet discernible interrelations that, upon reaching critical mass, suddenly cohere in the reader’s mind into a larger whole, a mosaic or tessellation or organic oneness that is akin to an epiphanical overview of all creation, a revelation of subtext or hidden numinous layers of meaning. Writers who can bring this off are indeed scarce. John Crowley, Paul Auster, Samuel Delany, Umberto Eco, Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Thomas Pynchon.

And our subject today, Christopher Priest. Priest’s books—at least for the past few decades—have been all about patterning. Information is presented with utmost clarity and vividness, yet larger meanings are teasingly withheld, ultimate import remaining enigmatic, until everything clicks into place with brilliant precision. (Curiously, fewer American novelists work in this fashion, while many British writers such as M. John Harrison, Graham Joyce and Geoff Ryman seem enamored of it.)

Priest’s newest, The Adjacent, is another instance of this novelist’s dominant predilection or technique, and as with such recent triumphs as The Separation, The Prestige and The Islanders, the book is a both a marvel of craft and feeling, with the aloof, godlike technics being perfectly balanced by the emotional storytelling.

We open in a future not assigned any hard calendar year. Let’s call it roughly fifty years hence. By being presented first, this thread of Priest’s tale instinctively assumes a privileged position as the “dominant” one, and in fact the most wordage accrues to it. But still, a case can be made for all the novel’s timelines being equal in import. In any case, we are inhabiting a dismal future, where climate change and other sociopolitical disasters have rendered daily life massively different from our easygoing era. Now, you might think that you’ve seen such projections too often lately, but Priest renders his future unique and tangible with grace and insight and many droll touches. You know everything you need to know when you hear, “Do you have a license for that camera?” In other realms, England, the scene of our tale, is now subject to hurricanes. But to lessen the horror, they are dubbed “temperate storms” and given such classy names as “TS Edward Elgar.” And simply to travel from city to city takes many days in an armored vehicle. And most disturbing of all is a new kind of terror attack which might be an imposition of the weird “adjacency effect.” All matter within the blast zone is instantly wiped out, leaving a signature triangular scar in the earth.

Our point-of-view character is Tibor Tarent, a professional photographer who had been on assignment with his medico wife Melanie in Turkey. Melanie died in a small adjacency attack, and now back in England Tibor is immured in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy for official “debriefing.” While travelling the institutional circuit, he meets a mystery woman named Flo, who seems to hold out explanations about his plight and Melanie’s death.

The scene shifts next to World War I, where a stage illusionist named Tommy Trent (an avatar of Tibor Tarent?) is involved with a bizarre military R&D program. A fine walk-on by H. G. Wells adds to the thrills. But it’s a Wells we never knew, in uniform, alerting us to possible counterfactuality. The next small section introduces us to Thijs Rietveld, physicist discoverer of the adjacency equations—and also to a different avatar of Tibor. Next we journey to WWII, and a possible aviator ancestor/counterpart to Tibor’s lost wife Melanie.

Part 6 reunites us with Tibor in the mainline narrative or frametale. Still trapped in the net of classified governmental waystations, trying to get back to London, Tibor experiences major existential slippage here, raising the creepiness level and the stakes for his future and the world’s. Priest achieves an almost Ballardian affect and tone at times, especially in Tibor’s unsettling sexual relations.

No sooner have we been hit with these revelations than we are catapulted critically in the next section into Priest’s allied fictional universe, the Dream Archipelago, to meet one Tomak Tallant, photographer. Inversions, synchronicities, parallels, lateral shifts continue to accumulate. I should mention that many important secondary characters also figure into the blooming matrix of associations.

Our final section, Part 8, brings us back to the Tibor’s era, and a masterful weaving together—or is it an adjacency explosion?—of all the multidimensional tiles in the big picture.

I hope I have not made The Adjacent—and by extension, Priest’s other books—sound like mere head games, cerebral and arid jigsaw-puzzle exercises. They are anything but. At the heart of The Adjacent are multiple touching love stories, as well as deeply moving speculations on art, war, and the nature of civic interactions. Also, Priest can do pure pulp special effects. Consider this description of the adjacency weapon in action.

“The light-point suddenly exploded like a firework, shooting three angled white shafts of light directly down to the ground. They surrounded the Mebsher [armored car], one each of the light shafts striking the ground a short distance away from the wheels. A skeletal pyramid of white light surmounted the Mebsher, a perfect tetrahedron, and moments after it had formed it solidified into pure light.”

I maintain that this passage could be plucked from an Edmond Hamilton or Jack Williamson Golden Age tale. Or maybe you can envision it realized on the screen in some classic Roger Corman film. Priest does not disdain SF’s visual and speculative kicks in favor of some hoity-toity “literary” quality, but makes a vigorous hybrid of the two modes.

Ultimately, like real-life moments of satori, the essence of Priest’s books must be lived and not dissected. As Tarent realizes about what has happened to him by the story’s end, “…there was no verbal or visual vocabulary to describe it.” The supreme paradox is that by Priest’s artful arrangement of words, we reach an awesomely wordless place.


Ned Beauman — London Review of Books

His most successful novel. The sort of thrill you get from Kafka, Lovecraft, Borges, Ballard, Dick: when a story of the inexplicable in a contemporary setting infects the real world with a fever of the uncanny. It’s one of the most difficult literary effects to achieve – a pitch of metaphysical anxiety that’s just about unique in British fiction. We get a sense of a writer who wants to shoulder forward the possibilities of storytelling, and the book comes to seem not only a piece of science fiction but a British attempt at a nouveau roman … more unsettling than just about anything else.


David V. Barrett — Fortean Times

Two books in less than two years is almost unheard of from Christopher Priest. The Adjacent tells a number of apparently unrelated episodes in the lives of different people in different places and times, drawing on several of Priest’s favourite themes: near-future post-catastrophe worlds, wartime pilots, invisibility, stage magicians, his own Dream Archipelago and, most of all, ambiguous story-telling.

In a near-future where climate change has wreaked havoc in the world and Britain is now an Islamic Republic, photographer Tibor Tarent has returned from Turkey, where his wife was killed by a mysterious weapon that completely annihilates everything within an equilateral triangle. In World War I, stage magician Tommy Trent is sent to the front line to find a way to protect our planes from German attack, and thinks of adjacency – placing two or three things near to each other, creating momentary invisibility through distraction. Halfway through the book we meet a scientist who created a way to use adjacency to neutralise weapons – which inevitably became a devastating weapon itself. In World War II a young Polish pilot tells her tale of Tomasz, the lover she left behind, to an English engineer, Michael Torrance. In an area of an island in the Dream Archipelago called Adjacent, where people seem to appear with no past history, photographer Tomak Tallant journeys through the wasteland with a mysterious woman; elsewhere a young stage magician, Thom the Thaumaturge, prepares for his act (inevitably involving disappearance) in a local theatre.

These men and the women who, often briefly, are important in their lives (whether by loss or lust), overlap in fragments of tales – but a measure of Priest’s skill as a writer is that each one is different and holds our attention completely. As his (and our) grasp of reality becomes more confused, Tibor Tarent encounters people he knows are dead, and a lover who now doesn’t know him, and the reader encounters the same or similar characters in different or similar scenarios. Death, sex and ambiguity: another triangle.

Priest’s novels are rarely easy, but they’re always beautifully written and extraordinarily thought-provoking.


Paul Kincaid — Vector

It is possible to read this novel as a gathering together of all the things that Christopher Priest has written about before. H. G. Wells (from The Space Machine) features in one section and JL Sawyer (from The Separation) is glimpsed in another; there’s a stage magician (as in The Prestige) and a performance that goes fatally wrong (as in The Islanders); we are repeatedly told that a major catastrophic event occurred on 10th May, the date that is central to The Separation; and the novel swerves tellingly from our world to the Dream Archipelago, as The Affirmation did. But if you think you should be ticking off a checklist of Priestly obsessions as you read, think again. Yes, we keep encountering familiar elements, great and small, from earlier novels but here they are distorted, displaced, put into an unfamiliar context that is somehow adjacent to where we know them from.

Adjacency doesn’t just provide the title and the McGuffin that sets the plot in motion, it is the metaphor that runs throughout the novel. Constantly we are being directed to look slightly to one side of what is going on. Priest plays fair, of course; early in the novel he explains how magicians use adjacency to direct an audience’s attention to something innocuous and away from the business of the trick. But how do we know what is the real event and what the misdirection, until Priest, with consummate timing, pulls the rug from under us, as he does at several points during the novel? I have said before that Priest does not use narrators who are unreliable but rather worlds that are unreliable and I don’t think any novel illustrates the point as powerfully as The Adjacent does.

The thing we are made aware of, time and again, is that all the central characters are misplaced. Tibor Tarent is of mixed Hungarian and American extraction, returning to a Britain that he does not recognise from an assignment on which his wife was killed. The two women he meets on his journey are, likewise, of non-British extraction. Tommy Trent is seen visiting an airfield in France during World War One where he clearly does not fit in. Mike Torrance trained to be an architect but now finds himself working as an engineer servicing bombers during World War Two. Krystyna Roszca is a Polish exile ferrying planes during World War Two. And in the Dream Archipelago, Tomak Tallant, Thom the Thaumaturge and Kirstenya Rosscky find themselves on the closed island of Prachous without any real idea of how they got there. As Tarent says at one point, “I’m out of synch with the world”. He could be speaking for all of these characters, who stand at an odd angle to their worlds, worlds at war that have become dangerous and disturbed.

Note the names, of course: Tibor Tarent, Tommy Trent, Tomak Tallant, and Krystyna’s lost love, Tomasz, whose doppelgänger is Torrance. Priest draws our attention to the significance of the double initials, for instance in giving the storms that now lash Tarent’s future Britain names like Edward Elgar, Federico Fellini and Graham Greene. They are, of course, avatars of each other. Not entirely, not precisely; Priest is too subtle a writer for such straightforward doubling but we see echoes across the different worlds and times until the worlds start to come together within the psychology of the characters as we now know them.

We see quite early on how these double-Ts have been torn asunder by the brutality of the world they inhabit, though it is perhaps some time before we realise quite how damaged they are. Tiber’s wife has been killed by a frightening new weapon, the Adjacent; now, returning to Britain, he finds himself caught in the Kafkaesque coils of a bureaucracy that has no place or time for him. Travelling across a landscape that has been changed beyond recognition by violent storms and by the adjacency weapon that has obliterated a vast triangle of West London, Tibor finds himself trapped within armoured vehicles known as Mebshers or in isolated establishments where he has no place or purpose. It is only gradually that we recognise how this increasing isolation reflects his own mental disintegration.

Meanwhile his avatar, Tomak, finds himself tracing a similar journey across the desert interior of Prachous with no idea how he got there. Eventually he will reinvent himself as Thom the Thaumaturge, echoing another magician, Tommy Trent, who tried to bring his skills at misdirection tothe service of the Royal Flying Corps in World War One France. Thom has one great illusion that is doomed to go terribly wrong but as he prepares for it he is haunted by three women who all have some mysterious part in his life.

At the same time Krystyna/Kirstenya searches for her lover, Tomasz, through war-torn Poland, at an airfield in wartime Lincolnshire and across the strange, closed-in, secretive island of Prachous. At one point, flying over a part of the island where local rumour suggests there is a mysterious shanty town known as Adjacent, she sees from one direction a desolate black triangle like the scene of Melanie Tarent’s death or the May 10th atrocity in West London, from another direction the same location is occupied by a growing township, and from a third direction she sees a thriving city of glass and concrete. Those caught by the weapon known as the Adjacent have been displaced to the Dream Archipelago, just as Tomak and Kirsteyna have been; but more than that, adjacency is clearly a point where all times and places coexist. It is only by understanding this that we can understand how all these characters can die within the novel and yet be alive again.

The Adjacent is a novel that feeds on Priest’s other work but it enriches that work, expands it and deepens it. You don’t need to have read The Affirmation and The Islanders, The Prestige and The Separation (it might help but it’s not necessary); but if you have read those books, The Adjacent will help you see them in a new light. It is as complex and rewarding as any of his novels, and it repays re-reading, but above all it is a novel that is as enthralling, as mystifying and as satisfying as any other you are likely to encounter this year.


Gary K. Wolfe — Locus

Priest’s clever manipulation of his own adjacencies somehow makes the novel grow more coherent even as it grows more mysterious. In some ways a contrapuntal intergenerational love story, in some ways a meditation on war and remembrance, in some ways an exploration of the nature of illusion and observation (it’s no accident there are so many reporters, photographers, and illusionists here), it is, overall, rather stunning.


Other reviews:

Julian M. Bucknell — Algorithms for the Masses

James Lovegrove — Financial Times

Nick Hubble — Los Angeles Review of Books

Mag The Weekly

John Self — Asylum

Des Lewis — Real Books Rock

Mark Smith — Sunday Herald

Daniel Cairns — SciFiNow

Julian White — Starburst

Jonathan Wright — SFX