This review will contain a major spoiler for Disch's novel; read on only if you don't mind being spoiled for The Priest, a work of pointless anti-clericalism, popular anti-Catholicism and simplistic silliness.

Spoilers! )

All in all, then, if you're looking for an interesting novel about the Catholic Church and some of its problems (largely celibacy, but others too), read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow.  If you're looking for a poorly written piece of pointless screed, read Disch's The Priest - but I wouldn't advise it.
Having never seen The Prisoner in either of its televisual incarnations, this is my first real experience of the concept of Number 6, and the rest of the cast, and The Village itself.  Disch's writing certainly has the qualities needed for the mysterious, strange sense of unreality and obscurity; he's also really rather good at controlling information and keeping a certain lyricism and dreamlike quality in the prose.

The characters are great - the mysterious numbers as identifiers means that the reader has less preconceptions about each character, and indeed, Disch's strong characterisation of each figure - especially Numbers 6 (our main character and, largely, the viewpoint-figure), 14, 7, 41, and of course the ever-mysterious Number 2 - allows those Numbers to in a very real way come to life; the figures are so well-drawn, so individualistic, and talk in their own clear ways, that despite the lack of names, we really do know who each of them is; Disch's writing really does manage to overcome the shortfalls that it might have suffered.

The plot is a wonderful one, with the exploration of the Village and everything going on there and the attempts to escape from it, in various ways - Number 6's various wonderful ideas of how to get round the security, and discover more about the Village, are really well portrayed; and the first of his real escape attempts is absolutely brilliant, a really wonderful idea.  The whole thing moves at a relatively slow pace, but at the same time it covers all the ground it needs to really well; indeed, Disch keeps his plot moving, with moments of pure beauty.  Equally there are some fantastic twists and turns, with really strange, dark moments brought about by them - some horrifying images too, well-wrought at that.

Finally, the Village itself is wonderfully portrayed; retaining the dreamlike sense of the prose, it has a certain fuzziness around the edges, and the other characters are really well drawn; the question of how real anything in the story is is absolutely fantastic, and what is going on is never quite what it seems - the idyllic and tranquil location proving the perfect counterpoint to the dystopia that lies under the surface; and the cheery feeling of the place proves a beautiful contrast to the horror of Number 6 himself.

All in all, then, Disch's version of The Prisoner is absolutely brilliant; I am now going to have to hunt down a version of the original TV series to watch...

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February 2012

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