Pursuing Christopher Priest: Afterword

A couple of years ago, I received, read and enthusiastically reviewed Alan Garner’s last novel, Boneland. I called it his last novel, because Garner himself had described it as such: between his age, the time that writing takes, and the absence finally of an idea to inspire him, he did not expect another. And the book itself presented that conclusion. It was the culmination, the drawing together, the resolution of all Garner’s work. It was complete.

On 14 July this year, Christopher Priest will be 71. I have no reason to doubt that both his physical constitution and his mental acuity are strong. And as for his age alone, the world’s greatest writer, Gene Wolfe, is 88 and shows no signs of retiring. There’s no reason to think that there won’t be more thoughtful, perceptive, imaginative books from Priest. The Dream Archipelago has surely not been exhausted.

Yet I can’t help viewing The Adjacent in a similar light to Boneland. If it were to be Priest’s swansong, then it would prove to be a most apt book for that role. In it, many of Priest’s theme come together, forming parts of a disparate but absorbing whole, and the underlying theme of his career, Uncertainty, comes into its own, embodied in every page, every thought, every action. Reality expands beyond alternates into an infinity of worlds. I find it impossible to think where Priest can take this central obsession that goes beyond The Adjacent.

But then I’m not writing his books, only reading them and forming impressions and beliefs from them. I would be extremely happy if there are more works to come, works that can spread yet further outwards. That doesn’t deny, however, the feeling I have of culmination about this book. If it were to be the last, I would not feel cheated, or denied. And I would be spared the risk of the disappointment that comes from reading Robert Neill’s last two, weak, novels.

The Adjacent is a tremendous achievement. By the same token, it is an enormous hostage to fortune.

Thank you all for following my thoughts in this extensive re-reading of Christopher Priest’s work. Needless to say, I am already turning in my mind to another favourite author, and a protracted re-read and exposition of someone who ought to be better known. We shall convene again, shortly.

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