THe graD­UaL

Ortho­dox Priest?

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

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.

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