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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 25 June 2013
There is not much need, in a review of The Adjacent, to go into the details of the story, and to reveal more than what is said in the blurb would probably detract from your enjoyment. In some ways it is a book of themes above plot. That is not to say there is no plot, indeed it is a compelling and intriguing mystery with a clear journey. Largely it centres around one main story, in which a photographer named Tibor Tarent, living in a bleak near future Britain, is shuttled around from place to place, trying to make some sense of what has happened to his wife, and for that matter the rest of the world. And then there are the surrounding stories, set in different times, apparently different places or perhaps even different worlds, and yet all somehow related. There is a feeling of constant threat, of displacement, constant movement, and a need to return home. Many of the the settings could be described as Wellsian futures (depending on your perspective of the future). It begins in a fairly standard manner but by the second half becomes increasingly surreal and entangled.

This book is like a best-of album of past Christopher Priest works. It touches on practically all of the themes you will find in his other novels. Duality, the unreliable narrator, magic, distraction, war and conflict, alternative futures and many more. Throughout the novel, it is clear that certain words have been chosen very carefully and deliberately. There are numerous reflections and sudden contradictions, an unsettling feeling of simultaneous amnesia and déjà vu.
The Adjacent rewards the attentive reader*, containing many references back to itself, and for that reason it is best read when you are able to pay full attention to what you are reading. There is a certain resemblance in that respect to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but The Adjacent is an altogether different concept, at the same time more surreal (and yet entirely believable) and written in a more succinct and readable manner.

I am certain that The Adjacent will divide opinion. Many will find it a little confusing and might not see the point. When reading certain passages I felt sure he must have made a mistake, but nothing is ever that simple. Personally, I revel in the confusion that is prominent in all of Priest's novels. This is unmissable reading for any regular reader of his work and certainly is powerful even standing alone.

If, as a first time reader, this is difficult to get into, I would probably recommend starting with one of his other books which focus on fewer themes at once. For example The Affirmation, which has a similar feel of descending into a deeper world and is my personal favourite. If you don't like The Affirmation, you'll probably feel similarly about The Adjacent.

*although after writing this, It occurred to me that the people looking for the trick are the easiest to trick...
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A century or more in the future, Melanie Tarent is killed in a terrorist attack in Turkey by a frightening new weapon. The only trace the weapon leaves behind is a triangular scorch mark on the ground. Her husband, Tibor, returns home to Britain and learns that the same weapon has been deployed on a larger scale in London, leaving a hundred thousand people dead. There appears to be a connection to something in Tibor's past, something he has no memory of.

The events in Tibor's life have ramifications across the years. During WWI a stage magician is sent to the Western Front to help make British reconnaissance aircraft invisible to the enemy and has a chance meeting with one of the most famous writers alive. During WWII a young RAF technician meets a female Polish pilot and learns of her desperate desire to return home and be reunited with her missing lover. And in the English countryside of the near future, a scientist creates the first adjacency, and transforms the world.

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 book unfolds in stages, draped on the skeleton of Tibor's adventures (for lack of a better term) in the Islamic Republic of Great Britain. The normal eye-rolling which accompanies any suggestion that Britain could ever become such is mediated here by knowing some of Priest's narrative tricks. This is a future, not the future, and it is possible that it may not be the future of our world but another where history has unfolded differently. From this linking narrative we move back to the First World War, forwards to the Second, sideways to one of the islands of the Dream Archipelago and, in the middle of it all, a short interlude in an English scientist's garden which may hold the key to the whole thing. The book's ending is revelatory, but only in the sense that you can now see the destination, not necessarily that you understand how you got there. As is also traditional with Priest's books, a full and richer understanding of the text will have to wait for re-reads. That said, Priest does play fair: by the end of the first read you should be starting to get a handle on what's going on.

Of course, the novel's satisfaction as a puzzle and an impressive work of intellect would be nothing without Priest's formidable skills with prose, character, detail and atmosphere. His research is put to good use, with the historical settings of the First and Second World Wars evoked to good effect. 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.

If The Adjacent has a weakness, it's that it's a novel that, whilst readable by itself, will especially reward those already familiar with Priest's work. In particular, the sideways trip to the Dream Archipelago will likely completely confuse those not familiar with it, but readers of The Dream Archipelago, The Affirmation and The Islanders will be able to nod sagely and think that they are 'in' on what Priest is doing (or at least they can kid themselves they are). The Adjacent feels like a culmination of the ideas and tropes Priest has been exploring since at least The Affirmation was published thirty years ago, and is thoroughly rewarding on that basis. Newcomers unversed in the 'Priest Effect' (a term coined by David Langford to describe Priest's way of writing) may find some of the ideas in the book more impenetrable.

The Adjacent (*****) is puzzling, brilliant, frustrating, page-turning, disturbing and absorbing. It is traditional Priest.
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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!
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on 7 July 2013
I'm a fan of Christopher Priest's work and I believe this could be one of his best - if not the best - novels. It is completely absorbing and the depth of its ingenuity is such that it will reward more than a single reading.

I'm not about to give any details of the plot away. I hate "spoilers" and I'm even the sort of person who tries not to read the details on the fly-jacket so as not to ruin half of the book! If you want that kind of detail, you'll have to look elsewhere. However, we can discuss a few generalities.

The last third of the book (140 pages or so) are quite extraordinary in terms of how the plot is resolved. I suspect that Priest has developed the ideas for the plot from modern physics - quantum mechanics to be exact - but even those who are familiar with its concepts may be captivated by the way that he maintains a superbly steadfast prose whilst the interwoven plot unfolds vicariously. To be honest, I can't remember reading a book where, when one of the main twists is revealed, it felt like a jolt of electricity running through me! Great stuff! There's some skilful erotic writing which appears throughout as Priest's use of suggestion cleverly leaves the reader on tenterhooks, desperate to learn when and how the tension will be released.

Priest also manages to return to themes he loves: HG Wells appears and so does an illusionist. Another of the features of The Adjacent which is a returning theme - and this is something I hadn't really thought about in the 1970s - is possibly some subliminal racism. One of the "scene settings" in The Adjacent is a near future in which Pries has done a political and meteorological extrapolation from the present status quo. The result is a storm-devastated Britain under the grip of an Islamic government. I might be over-reacting here, but there was also a near future in Fugue for a Darkening Island that was an extrapolation from what was then the status quo, and had black people in control of Britain. Two near-future extrapolations resulting in governments by present-day minorities which are hated by some sections of society - ? Perhaps I am over-reacting... you decide.

Irrespective of that minor niggle that I've just raised, The Adjacent remains a fascinating and skilful novel; one which I shall enjoy re-reading, sure as I am that I will discover even more cunning verbal subterfuges. No wonder that Priest likes to write about illusionists - he is the foremost amongst them in the written word!
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on 28 May 2016
The Adjacent follows the (mis)fortunes of Tibor Tarent in the near future wherever Europe is part of an Islamic republic. Tarent's wife is killed but her body is awol and a blackened triangle covers the area she was last seen. The storyline jumps between parallel Earths as he hopes to discover what exactly happened but it is not as easy as that. Despite some negative reviews and having only ever read The Inverted World, which is wonderful, this novel draws you in and keeps you enthralled.

Ray Smillie
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VINE VOICEon 17 August 2013
The Adjacent takes us to many places, to and from the future - the Islamic Republic of Great Britain - to Northern France in the First World War and an encounter with H.G.Wells, and from a Lincolnshire air base in World War Two to a fantasy archipelago where a magician is setting up an amazing trick. Nothing is what it seems in this very imaginative and atmospheric novel by a master of fiction. This is the kind of novel you inhabit, rather than need to understand. An extremely impressive exploration of reality and illusion.
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on 1 July 2013
By the strangest of co-incidences I downloaded "Cloud Atlas" about three weeks ago to read during a trip to the States. On the homeward flight one of the available films on the BA flight was..."Cloud Atlas". Almost as soon as I got home I saw one of the book recommendations on my Kindle was "The Adjacent". I've been a firm follower of Christopher Priest ever since I read "A Dream of Wessex" and "Inverted World". "The Adjacent" became an immediate "must have".
I can really see why a couple of the reviewers so far have already made the comparison with "Cloud Atlas" and yes, certainly for a British reader, it's more immediately accessible. Anyone who's driven the A1 regularly knows the countryside around Long Sutton (Got fined sixty quid there in the nineteen eighties, when sixty pounds really meant a hole in your pocket)
Like so much of Priest it leaves you with more questions than answers. Who really was Krystyna Roszca? Where DID she come from originally *? Priest won't help you; I've got my own rather dark opinion. Where was she REALLY off to that morning in the you-know-what **? Again, no real help from Priest, just a suggestion; again, I've got my own possible answer, as no doubt will you. What and where is the IRGB? Is it some kind of quantum alternative, quite literally "adjacent" to the UK that we know? Is it something that the UK has become? If so, when, how? No answers from Priest; suggest your own. Where IS the Dream Archipelago? On another world? On an alternative world? In the hero's head? In YOUR head...? Go figure...
This is why I'm saying, Okay, four stars, because many reviewers are going to come along later saying stuff like, "What a load of hooey...I had to do far too much work...I don't pay out good money to have to write my own book..." or something like that. So these guys are not going to come away over impressed. But...that's Christopher Priest. If only I'd bought the proper, the REAL book and not the Kindle, the "Cloud version", the ADJACENT version (!) then I'm sure that this story would be on my shelves along with "A Dream of Wessex", a book that now and then I just pull out and dibble into, emerging about an hour later having read four or five chapters again to gain a better, more updated grasp.
Yes, it's VERY like "Cloud Atlas". It's what Mitchell and Priest are both so good at...leaving you unsettled...unsure...
Well worth the read.

STOP!!!! If you haven't read it then GO NO FURTHER! SPOILERS!!

* I reckon she was recruited and trained by the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) and therefore HAD no past for the elderly Torrance to discover.
** Sent to England with the specific task of getting her hands on and bringing back a you-know-what, hence the direction of her disappearance.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 May 2014
If you're like me and like your narratives to be mostly resolved by the end of the movie/book/story, then you might want to skip this otherwise excellent and intriguing book. I don't mind some ambiguity, but this was a case where I was definitely expecting some kind of "aha!" reveal moment that never came. Which is not to say that I regret reading the 3/4 of it I loved, but over the last 100 pages the book took it from a best of the year contender to an interesting item I'm happy to donate to the library book sale.

The story opens in a vividly rendered near-future Great Britain, or rather, Islamic Republic of Great Britain, circa 2040 or thereabouts. Global climate change subjects the island to major hurricanes, and an unspecified insurgency subjects the island (and much of the world) to political instability. None of this is spelled out in any detailed way, which I loved. Other authors would have gotten sidetracked for 50 pages establishing the details and background of this setting. Instead, we meet a photojournalist just returned from Turkey, where his wife was killed in a mysterious bomb attack. As he's shuttled around the IRGB to a series of safe sites for debriefing, things get more askew.

Suddenly, in the next section we're with a stage magician traveling to the front in World War I, where he's been asked to try and help camouflage airplanes while they're flying. Along the way, he meets and has extensive interactions with H.G. Wells. Cut to the next section, where we're in WWII, meeting an English bomber mechanic and a refugee female Polish aviator. These characters, places, times, and relationships are all clearly related, but just how is left murky. There's some kind of weapon or something that may or may not act like a mini Bermuda Triangle, removing people to alternate realities or parallel quantum worlds. The themes of what is real and what is illusion and what the nature of either is, runs deep and strong through the story.

In the final quarter of the book, we find ourselves on an island that's apparently part of a chain of islands detailed in some of Priest's other books, such as The Islands and Dream Archipelago (neither of which I've read), where characters and plotlines start to collide more directly. I read eagerly along, waiting for Priest to pull everything together with a twist of the wrist, like one of his beloved magicians conjuring the beautiful woman from thin air. And in a sense he does do this in a literal sense, but one is left scratching one's head at the end -- rather like the characters in the book -- wondering what we just experienced.
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on 9 July 2013
Set across several time frames/dimensions? (its never really explained) with nearly identical characters in each,this is about as none linear a book as ive encountered. There is so much left unexplained- for example how did Britain get to be an Islamic Republic? I was getting rather confused, and the fact it doesnt really have a conclusion didnt help. Putting this aside though I have to say the writing is BRILLIANT, pacey, imaginative, flowing- in fact a pleasure to read. I really enjoyed it despite not having understood what the hell was going on either the first or second times I read it. Very talented man, and i look forward to more works by him even if I dont understand them!
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on 5 May 2014
Here we are in Moorcock territory, with parallel groups of characters, and loopy reflections between resonant worlds. Or are we?

This is classic Priest. Stately pace, and rather passively described. There's something compelling about the weirdness that allows time to slip by. Only one minute, and my tea's gone cold. Where am I?
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