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The Affirmation, by Christopher Priest

I had a chat with Chris Priest at Eastercon, and asked him which of his books I should read that I had not read - I am familiar with both his early and his most recent work, but less clear on the middle. Without hesitation, he said that The Affirmation, published in 1981, is the book that his earlier novels lead to and his later works reflect on. A kind spouse got it for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and I devoured it this weekend in post-election haze.

I can see why Priest himself thinks of it as central to his œuvre. The book is about a binary existence, a writer based in England writing about his own life in a fictional archipelago where he can gain eternal life at the cost of his own memory; while his doppelgänger in the archipelago is writing about his life A strange place called England. Families, lovers, writing all intersect across the two strands of reality and we cannot be certain which, if either, is the more real. A number of his earlier books are about a clash between realities, but we readers are usually left less uncertain than we are here about which is "real". And a lot of his later books pick up themes from The Affirmation and take them further, or in a different direction. Certainly I feel that now I have read it, I appreciate better what Priest was doing in The Islanders and The Adjacent. It's a bit surprising that the only award it picked up was the Australian Ditmar (though I suppose there were just fewer aware in 1981; it lost the BSFA award to The Shadow of the Torturer). But the 2011 Gollancz SF Masterworks edition features a helpful introduction by Graham Sleight.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mountainkiss
May. 14th, 2015 09:49 am (UTC)
I am finding it very difficult to work out from this review whether you actually liked the book or not.
nwhyte
May. 14th, 2015 08:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, I did. Sorry, I'm a bit out of the habit of bookblogging, and sometimes lose sight of the key point I'm trying to make...
parrot_knight
May. 14th, 2015 11:45 am (UTC)
The Affirmation is potentally a great novel of the cusp of the Thatcher era
I qualify the description only because I've not read enough.
pmcray
May. 14th, 2015 06:57 pm (UTC)
It's a brilliant book. I suspect it was primarily on the strength of it that Priest was chosen as one of the original Twenty Best Young British Novelists in the 1983 promotion, although Priest had already gained traction in the 1970s particularly with "Inverted World". I remember an ITV lunchtime programme in the late 1970s or very early 1980s in which I was unsurprised that the guests were Priest and Bob Shaw, so we must have some coverage on television for a tweenager, even one interested in sf, to have been aware that he was one of the Go-To people in British sf at that time. I certainly hadn't read any Priest at 12. I was bowled over by "The Affirmation" when I eventually did read it in the early 1990s.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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