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The Evidence Paperback – 9 November 2021
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Priest's mesmeric power is formidable ― Independent
A novelist of distinction ― Sunday Times
Priest is a powerful and underappreciated writer ― Daily Telegraph
Simultaneously familiar and weird, grippy and slippy, The Evidence is a tour de force of intimate alienation. ― Daily Mail
The Evidence is an essential missive from Priest's "Dream Archipelago"...Years hence we will look back at this loose collection and be amazed. ― The Times
- Publisher : Gollancz; 1st edition (9 November 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 360 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1473231388
- ISBN-13 : 978-1473231382
- Dimensions : 12.6 x 2.6 x 19.6 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 323,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Despite Priest’s rather dry authorial style, in the early chapters the evocation of the setting of the island of Dearth, its contrast with the balmy environment of the narrator’s home island, introduction of an enigmatic character, some well-realised action and the promise of a satisfying plot do manage to engage the reader’s interest. It’s a disappointment that this isn’t sustained.
Priest’s unnecessary authorial intrusions soon become wearing. As early as the second paragraph the narrator tells us that he is “disconsolate”, even though this is already obvious from the action. Early on, frequent info dumps can be seen as consistent with the narrative style and the narrator’s rather didactic nature, but these become more and more common, and lengthy to the point of tedium. The writing style is sometimes irritating: long lists are very often completed by “and so on” (and less frequently “and the like” or “etc.”). This could perhaps be viewed as a deliberate illustration of the protagonist’s dismissive attitude to his own obsessiveness, except that the quirk continues when the narrative voice switches to a different character.
The use of different languages is odd. Many of the names of characters have a Nordic or Turkish feel, but this doesn’t seem to tie in with any cultural alignments. The names of four of the five islands in the narrator’s home archipelago are derived from Arabic (the exception is “Sekonda”), but no special reason for this can be discerned. Every time one of these islands is mentioned it must be followed, increasingly irritatingly, by a suffix such as “the second” or “the fourth”; on the single occasion this doesn’t happen, the reader’s attention is explicitly drawn to the breach of etiquette.
The protagonist – peevish, judgemental and intensely self-centred – fails to elicit the reader’s sympathy. He seems to recognise that his actions, through some kind of arcane mechanism associated with the bizarre phenomenon of “mutability”, may be the reason for mass unemployment, bankruptcy and civil unrest, but he doesn’t even consider taking any responsibility for this. By half way through the book, his dry info dumps are taking up more space than the action. The lengthiest of these take the form of an unenlightening commentary about the structure of crime novels. While it’s more than probable that this is intended to subvert the novel’s own crime thriller format, the similarity in style to other lengthy asides about the war between northern hemisphere nations or the fictional world’s fiscal structures renders this interpretation unclear.
It’s also possible that the notion of mutability, a tendency to vaguely defined anomalies of causality, is intended to indicate that the world of experience is not amenable to logic. This interpretation, though, would be at odds with the novel’s otherwise rather encyclopaedic worldbuilding.
Ultimately the anticlimactic ending is pre-empted by yet another authorial intrusion. Does this metafictional device help the reader to appreciate that the very concept of an end is itself a fiction? And has the journey to this revelation (or lack of revelation) been enjoyable?
The answer to both of these questions is no.
The detailed review of this book posted elsewhere under my name is too long to post here.
Above is one of its observations.
However, I think that its main strengths are the flow and the prose as one is really compelled to turn the pages not only to find out what comes next (as the novel zigs and zags) but also for the pure enjoyment of the prose of a master of the craft. As the narrator - a "crime" fiction writer who has recently been more and more interested in the human aspects of the genre rather than a clever plotline - keeps emphasizing, it is the way a novel develops rather than its final destination per se, that is important and The Evidence indeed follows that dictum.