released 15 sePTeMber 352 pages | Hardback/ebook
Author Christopher Priest Publisher Gollancz
If not quite adrift in time, Alesandro Sussken has distinct problems keeping track of the hours and days. That’s because he’s a traveller in the Dream Archipelago, a chain of islands that defy attempts to map them. Take a journey that, in experienced time, takes weeks, and months and years pass for those back at home.
Sussken, a successful composer, has good reasons to want to travel. As a resident of a fascist state that, with echoes of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is constantly at war, he finds the authorities closing in on him – albeit that his problems with the regime are of a rather unusual kind: it wants to employ his music in the service of the state.
For Christopher Priest aficionados, both the setting and the unsettling set-up will be familiar. As, to use a handy shorthand, a slipstream novelist who draws as much on magical realism as SF, he’s long offered readers narratives where the nature of reality itself is uncertain.
That said, as Priest himself has noted in a blog post, this is in many respects a more conventional work than other recent offerings, a book driven by “a straightforward narrative told in sequence”. It makes The Gradual one of Priest’s most approachable novels.
It also has a warmth that’s far less evident in many of Priest’s earlier books. That’s because a key theme is the way we experience time, the way our older selves can connect vividly with something that happened years ago. Tied up with this is an exploration of our relationships with those closest to us. As Sussken becomes “adept” at moving through life, these become, if not easier, somehow sweeter and clearer. Or perhaps it’s just that we give up fighting with lovers and siblings as we draw closer to death? Priest, incidentally, is 73.
A novel that may well invade your own dreams, both in good ways and bad. Jonathan Wright
One of Priest’s most approachable novels
Priest was driving through Hungerford at the time of the 1987 massacre. He only found out about it an hour or so later.