The Evidence – Christopher Priest


Gollancz 2020

Some of my previous reviews of Christopher Priest:

When I read this book, I hope my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

34 thoughts on “The Evidence – Christopher Priest

  1. 1

    Always enthralled by someone’s mysterious travelling, here by a thin-snowed upon train dodging gauges after a plane grappling with gravities, to I know not where, the spoilers involving a reference to the Dream Archipelago, a reference, somehow, that gives me another good feeling, DEARTH island, though?— a short supply or of the Earth or a typo for death? Anyways, we know the man’s a crime fiction writer going to a conference as an apparently to-be-coddled guest speaker about crime fiction in a crimeless world. And his partner back home is called Jo. What else do you need to know at this stage? Oh, it has the well-tried Priestian style. So, all good.

  2. 2.

    “I ascended to Room 627 and for a few minutes I was free of mutability warnings, inadequate doctorates, irritated hosts or mysterious keys.”

    There is also something intriguingly Unconsoled here, either on the part of “Dr” Todd Fremde, our hero, initially surprised at the sheer cold after alighting from the train, and or on the part of his almost half-hearted hosts, not so hospitable as he expected, but hospitable enough. He is only staying one night – which is perhaps surprising in itself – as he is eventually taken to give his lecture. I sense this book itself requires some mutability warnings? As this real-time review of it probably needs some spoiler ones! But I feel as alone and discombobulated with or within it as Fremde seems to be. A name that somehow seems to chime obliquely with Wendow?
    Constructively discombobulated, I hasten to add.

  3. 3.

    “…I had not considered before: a crime-free society. Thinking about it I was struck not only by the possibilities but also by my ignorance of the subject.
    While still at home I had tried to work this out calmly. I had never visited Dearth, had barely even heard of it.”

    Intriguing, then, that he is lecturing on crime fiction, for which he is famous, on this “seignioral” island that reminds me of my stay in the 1990s on Sark. But surely it was not that long ago!

    “But how would that sort of fiction work if the reader, as well as the writer, lived in a world without crime? What would be the point of fiction assuming the presence of something that no longer existed?”

    Replace ‘crime’ above with ‘covid’? Is there a future which is nearer to us than we think the past is to us? This book captivates me with more than what it is about.
    His account of his own lecture is fascinating and now seems to have slid by in a page-turning way while a more boring book would have made it seem longer, with accompanying slideshow or not. His audience did seem, incidentally, atomised or granular, not equivalent to the gestalt that I should, have been seeking, I guess.

  4. 4

    “Whole plots can turn on details, or missed details. That was something I understood, even when I missed them.”

    I follow Fremd back into the hotel, grappling with “mutabilities” with which at my age I often grapple, but, there in Dearth, they seem generally if sporadically endemic. Dearth Vaguer?
    In case, like him, he seems to almost forget he saw an older grey haired lady on her own at a separate table during dinner, when he meets her again in the bar, I have noted down her name here (Frejah Harsent) in case she becomes more important, if that makes any sense! The beauty of REAL-TIME reviewing, I guess, a process that I adopted, if not invented, 12 years ago specifically for this book? I was also captivated by their discussion of the crime fiction art and by his being “vexed by this hotel and its weird systems and warnings.” And by letters on a laptop not being recorded properly, if at all, on the screen when writing an email to his wifely Jo on the hotel WiFi. In fact I’m completely captivated by this new Priest, even if some of it isn’t due to stick…

  5. Possible more serious plot-spoilers hereon in, due in part to the unexpected frustrations of real-time and to various mutabilities thus risked of such an empirical critique of the book.


    “Breakfast was a tentative matter. […] I swallowed a paracetamol tablet. My head started to clear, but slowly. For a few more hours I would be suffering physical stiffness, mental sloth.”

    By significant coincidence, I am honestly in a similar position as I read this chapter and now write this. But my Fremd endures additional frustrations of checking out from the discombobulating hotel in Dearth, involving, inter alios, considerations of financial currencies as well as electrical currents. His further frustrations are solved at least for a while by the considered description of the woman’s car that is giving him a lift to the airport, and the consequent unexpected financial recompense, albeit accompanied by an ominous object in the the woman’s car boot. I can tell that the author, even if via his main protagonist narrator within the book, does do due research of detail and, no doubt, continuity to obviate the short-term memory of the book’s real-time…or the reader’s. Premature or fickle spoilers, notwithstanding.

    “(I always suspect that many readers skip details like this, but if I try to omit them the publisher insists they must go in. I always snarl privately as I make the changes.)”.

  6. 6

    “…the engine of the supercharged car was in a state of constant change, snarling then idling in turn, as it responded to pressure on the throttle.”

    That ‘snarling’ again! Writers have no control over throttles I guess, as all writers are engines, or as it says here, serfs. The reader has the throttle. Reading indeed as steering! (My thoughts, not necessarily the book’s.)
    But this book’s writer is a mighty multi-stroke engine, as it deploys wonderful, compelling story-telling, as we read more of the woman and her car. What she is, and what the car can do or gauge under her hands… and the snowy terrain of Dearth, and conversations they have on the nature of crimelessness and crime. Genuine masterstrokes that only this writer can supply in his time-durable uniqueness of believable SF’s mutabilities.

  7. 7

    “– the lure of books and writing is a flame in me that I cannot extinguish. That is how it was when I started. It is still like that now.”

    D619CA2C-265E-4A9D-9EF6-5FBE49B11C39The engine is now “growling”, and there feels to me to be a change in gauge as I am almost imperceptibly and carefully and interestingly and believably dumped with info by the writer via his narrator and his woman car engine driver, about the hierarchies of the Dream Archipelago — fiefs villeins serfs vassals tithes &c — and the writer’s narrator’s writing ambition from childhood and how writers fit into that system. And, with my admiration of this phenomenon as a writer myself, I am similarly dumped with much info about the Archipelago’s variable ‘mutabilities’, which, at my age and state of development, I can easily imagine being the best description possible of the onset of Alzheimer’s, whether that effect on me was intentioned or not.

    “…the effects of mutability are real, and also unreal. Something happens, but later you only think it happened.”

  8. Pingback: The Mutabilities of the Dream Archipelago | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  9. 8

    “There is no rule about this. Where writers find inspiration and develop their ideas is not a practical or literal exercise – nobody can truly describe it because to a large extent it is an internal, organic process.”

    Some now intrusive info about the feudal governance or seigneuriy that makes up the Hierarchipelagic and its sporadic minor experiments with democracy.

    Police procedurals as a staple in Fremd’s work; the nature of ‘story’ in fiction, perhaps even didactic… all discussed. And then, amid their coffee, Frujah makes him ‘almost’ complicit in one of her own ‘stories’ of working life that she hopes may help him by its being factored into the Fremd canon… but, ironically, her ‘story’ remains unfactored-in, as the reader is not (yet) blessed with hearing it.

    However much this reviewer is indulging in ‘tricks’, he remains captivated by the gestalt of this book containing this story of story-making thus made to feel real. Fiction as an alchemy towards fact? If fact is not feudal in itself? The ‘evidence’ of islands merging into one land mass? Or, vice versa, Earth to Dearth?
    But what of the Intentional Fallacy?

  10. 9

    “She told me a story this afternoon about a crime she covered up. She seemed proud of it and insisted I had to hear it. She said she thought it would make a good plot for a novel.”

    In the short break from the strange car trip, as Fremd communicated with his wife Jo on-line about what was happening to him, I suddenly had the uncanny, almost preternatural, if you CAN have the ALMOST preternatural as preternatural itself is already almost…
    yes, an uncanny feeling anyway that I am already somehow MEANT to be simultaneously reading TONY & SUSAN here! An inadvertent mutual synergy of these two books in a car trip as an inveigled new trip within an existing trip? Poised, too, to become involved with the potentiality of a different fiction written by one of the characters? All potentially ominous. The TONY & SUSAN book was recently recommended to me strongly out of the blue on Twitter (I had never heard of this book before) while I was already due to read THE EVIDENCE with me being a seasoned Priest fan.

  11. 10

    “…Jexid or Jeskit, but she put me right on that: Jeksid.”

    He likes to get the details right, he says. Getting the borders of meaning and word, person and name, right, I guess.
    The book ‘Tony & Susan’ being read by me alongside this one – linked in a previous entry above – amazingly talks today about everything being anticlimax waiting for clinching disaster, a specific event, anxiously premeditated or not, that may or may not arrive on time. But is it not inevitable that the ‘disaster’, severe or otherwise, will eventually come in whatever form? Fremd’s anxiety about reaching his destination arrives in such a quandary of consideration of its apparent anticlimax. But the discussion with Frujah about crime fiction’s territory, or “just crime fiction”, was genuinely fascinating, making my journey with Fremd’s own journey across the equally well-characterised territory of Dearth doubly worthwhile, as it were.

    “Maybe there would be a story in this experience one day? I am always curious about motive and outcomes.”

  12. 11

    “I was always nervous of inadvertently ‘borrowing’ an ingenious idea from other writers’ novels, so I was not an enthusiastic reader of my colleagues’ works.”

    Time had been stolen or morphed from Fremd’s writing commitments at home by the erstwhile trip to Dearth, writing trips always taking more attritional time than you might have expected, with travel time included and other silent purloining by wear and tear, I guess. And pre-planning etc. Leaving him “vague and undirected.” This is indeed the aftermath to that trip following its anticlimax from our own reading point of view. The regrouping of what he had retained about the story of the real ‘crime’ that somehow has been deemed fit for fictionalising, i.e. the crime that the older woman, I recall, who had given him a car lift on departure from Dearth, had worked on some years before and had told him about – all now tantalisingly difficult to nail down, but he thinks he manages it. Give or take the odd residual mutability? Our reading of it ourselves is soon to ensue, I guess. Meantime, I am interested by our own enabled settling-in to his home’s ambiance with his wife.

  13. 12

    “…because a mutability event might or might not have taken place since the alleged incident. This would make forensic evidence unreliable: measurements, placement, movement of evidential objects, and so on.”

    With Mutability or even Mutability Incipience, the whole of the Dream Archipelago seems to me a veritable, if figuratively spread about, House of Leaves!
    I have just re-read my whole own report above of ‘The Evidence’, and, reading between the lines of Frejah’s filtered report, that Fremde has just read, too, of the ‘transgression’ she once re-investigated in Salay, I do not think I am currently subject to what she describes as “confirmation bias”, as I often am in fiction book reviewing. Nor is Fremde, I guess. No doubt we shall soon see. After all, he is reading her report for fiction purposes! Also I am intrigued by the 68M mute-muter and no amount of confirmation bias yet allows me to link that number with 6/17!

  14. 13

    “The importance of the exact time of the death of a victim often comes up in crime fiction. In reality, it is an imprecise science.”

    Blowflies, notwithstanding.
    Meanwhile, Fremd investigates the crime that the woman car driver had told him about from during her career as a cop. Compares and contrasts those other details he discovers, involving identical twin brothers and their names, to the details she had told him with the prospect, she hoped, of his turning this rare murder event into fiction. And the nature of fingerprints in twins, especially when blurred, seems strangely relevant to something I can’t quite define.

  15. 14

    “Was there still an allowable, plausible way of plotting a crime novel that involved identical twins?”

    Fremd speculates on the motives of the person who had told him this real crime story as a suggested ingredient in his fiction, and on the possible fact that he was being told something else hidden within it, and now competing with, back home, his already current writing priorities of a future book before he had departed for Dearth. Funny how I cannot forget that island’s name. I am now judging my own priorities in spending most of my time studying and semi-explicating or half-answering books by other writers instead of writing more of my own books. Perhaps I am instinctively tempted by the alchemy provided by islands of external reality as projected elsewhere by elsewho … and factoring those ‘dreams’ with the gestalt of some inner reality that I am developing?
    Meanwhile, I wonder how to factor in his supportive wife Jo’s craft of sculpting?

  16. 15

    “‘I am in debt to you. This is the sort of case I have always dreamed of.’”

    image With the dream co-vividness of an archipelago? Or the prestidigitation of illusion?
    At first here, with at least hints of widening absences between Jo and Fremd for the purpose of their respective arts or ‘business’ interests, I am reminded of Susan and Arnold in ‘Tony&Susan’, and Fremd’s cat Barmi and Susan’s cat Martha. You see, my own literary ‘detective’ work as writing duty is not confined to empiricism but also magic.
    And, here, we now seem to enter the world of Father Brown with illusion and lockdowns as part of a crime mystery or ‘thriller’, the latter terms discussed in this chapter. (My reviews of the complete Father Brown stories are HERE.)

  17. 16

    “The Raba bourse had been the focus of share and investment dealing throughout the islands for several decades.”

    I don’t know why I have quoted that as Raba and its mœurs are merely, so far, a way station of plot ambiance and airport usage for reaching further reaches of this book’s central crime scenario, as Fremd and his sidekick (Dr Watson-like?) called Spoder, a name that autocorrects as Spider, reach a believable carnival atmosphere on Sekonda (an island as the ‘second’ onward genius-loci site to beland this book?), a site not unlike, for me, that of the mutabilities of Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet called Holstenwall? Is this now already the fiction that the woman car driver was suggesting be written as based upon her proffered ‘real’ crime scenario?

  18. 17

    “…the wooden trusses of the rollercoaster. Many of the other rides were positioned close to each other, ingeniously taking up a minimum of space.”

    Rides that outdeafened any crime within its magic museum, I guessed. The first exploration by Spider and Fremd is just like Navidson and his brother in the other bookhouse I mentioned earlier above, here, now, with an immovable door that becomes tantamount to not a door at all and other secret places beyond cabinet doors. The story of the erstwhile murder crime – first suggested as a potential fiction earlier in this book by the woman car driver – now indeed does become a veritable fiction for me to enjoy by dint of info-dumps in chunks of dialogue, as crucial matters often are revealed in real crime fiction, I guess.
    So much here is in preternatural keeping with the respective dual fictions within each of Tony&Susan and HouseofLeaves…and the huge info-dump footnotes in the latter. These two books still being simultaneously reviewed with TheEvidence BY CHANCE!
    Three books so utterly different from each other, otherwise.

  19. 18

    “…the forgetful ways of authors,…”

    A fascinating, increasingly entrammelling chapter, when back home, with all manner of clues as to frustrations and dislocations and putting out of mind of the Carnival Museum Murder, a crime now with a spur to things of its possible financial implication, and realisations that I am a bit of a reviewing fraud and have always been aware of the correct spellings of certain names, 55EC1070-2B0D-4C76-9BFA-1C368F86F530 and I somehow recognised Fremde’s tapping into ‘mutability’ itself to write his latest crime fiction with developing characters and the eventual culprit, and later there is possible quarantine or viral infection on his computer stemming from a key from the Dearth hotel that it still knew he possessed. The hotel at which he had stayed, I now recall….and how this book is infecting my own computer by transposing my thoughts to it about the book, infecting my computer if not my brain, say, with the dawning enormity of the Archipelago as a group of endless-seeming islands, the divorcement of authors from some pragmatic verities …. and how I once worked in high finance, as this author claims he didn’t. You are where you are and nowhere else.

  20. 19

    “Did all cops semi-retire?”

    Either some padding or more info dump, or a script about the poor lot of authors that duly conned me, but this chapter had me entranced, nevertheless. Historical Archipelagic context to a stricken conscript ship between islands, undercurrents of endemic wars despite treaties to obviate them, and later as separate news, a financial crisis involving a fraud on Raba. I briefly glimpsed in my mind a possible link between the hotel key infiltrating Fremde’s computer and this major financial glitch… how an author can affect by the smallest thing the whole world belief-system as created by his or her own book? A credit crunch. And Spoder’s name perhaps SHOULD be Spider after all with his many legs of backstory possible, as Jecksid infiltrates this book again via him. What does Jecksid almost rhyme with?

  21. Later again…


    “Why pick out a stranger then feed him a series of untruths?”

    A reader of a fiction book is usually a stranger to the author who wrote it, I guess.
    Some truly fascinating material in this chapter. Landmark stuff, I’d say, regarding the relationship of fiction and reality. And regarding mutability and police procedurals inadvertently hand in glove with Tony&Susan. I am convinced it is thus hand in glove inadvertently — perhaps, at most, preternaturally connected. Even more so, now. Starting with the ‘shelteration’ of a textbook’s illustrations of forensic bodily horrors in crime investigation screened by ‘havenic’ pages — visuals that Fremde dares to consult for his fiction.
    I also re-scrutinise my own ‘lies’ in this review of pretending to ‘forget’ certain names or misspell them, and the bruised figure of Frejah, here in her outlandishly over-powered car again, talks about equating lies with forgetting. I do forget things more easily, these days, in increasing age. Hence my gestalt real-time reviewing my own empirical reactions for future hindsight.
    And what Frejah’s info-dump dialogue now factors anew into this plot as part of that plot herself, as well as her being in some reality outside it, is genuinely chilling not only to Fremde but also to the readers affected by it, as a by-product.

    “(I did not enlarge on this, but in reality she was sounding like someone from abandoned drafts of some of my early novels….)”

    “It was believable, but only because that was what had happened. It would never work in a novel.”

  22. 5C676CB5-F22D-429A-88CE-D03257D55E1E21 & 22

    “How long before we found out that the financial crash had never really happened?”

    I dutifully read as well as become entranced by all the info-dumps (including Spoder’s dump to Fremde about his true feudal caste as fugitive turned cop, thus Spoder is susceptible to blackmail) and more rumours of the islands’s history, wars and current credit crunch, and I reckon that, if nothing else, financial glitches are made up of rumours following promissory notes and other imaginative leverage of futures (rumour being my word, not the book’s), a web of rumours that seems just a theme-and-variations upon the book’s own mutabilities as well as upon the mutabilities inherent (and called as such) IN the plot itself. Also considerations of the ingredients of a perfect murder and how any such murder thus does not make good fiction…. and as soon as I have rid myself of deliberate spelling mistakes, I now read the following statement!….

    “The writer in me winced at the spelling mistakes –“

  23. 23

    “A town to die in. I found a diner where I could eat standing. I kept my collar turned up.”

    “Mutability? The curse of every investigation on Dearth.”

    672EE38B-BC23-467A-B13E-8B82563B15F0A book to die in, too, as part of its constituent stories, now Jecksid’s written out story, one that I felt duly detached from as if info dumps now slide over me like water off a duck’s back, involving another baseball constituent to go with that in Tony&Susan: a bat as murder weapon. Water off Fremde’s back, too, as he needs to have two sittings of reading this story. A story not original enough to make his own overall book stand out as original and ground-breaking amidst the crime fiction world of competing, forum-gossiping authors, I guess. C0C9452A-7E64-460F-AC87-3967874AC3FB Yet the crypto currency images reiterated here make it all original and ground-breaking enough for me. As I said in my Tony&Susan review earlier today, posing the crime of fiction as well as crime fiction. Or at least as I there implied. Bitcoin, as the ultimate mutability, in an alternate world with an otherwise dearth of money or credit…or belief. The perfect crime fiction about an imperfect crime, or vice versa? Or both in this Priest are perfect? We shall yet see.

    “Who are these people, and who were they?
    The novelist in me – I could not help seeing it this way, because that is what I do, what I am – simply could not respond to these people.”

    “…where the quay wall turned at an angle to contain the harbour.”

  24. 24 & 25

    “The story had finally taken hold of me. All these people, all these old killings. They were gaining in depth and solidity for me at last, becoming human. Everything would make sense in the end.”

    Except it is the opposite for the reader, ironically the ultimate anticlimax and ‘death’ or dearth of a book that I had otherwise enjoyed. Perfect crime. Perfect murder of, not the author, but the reader. A concatenation to live for, not to die for. A book that had affected the world finances by misuse of its key, as well as probably starting trains of event ending with Jexit and Frump, now back on kilter, all mutabilities cancelling each other out. The perfect tontine of a book, after interminable info dumps and failed suspensions of disbelief. Till there is only one ending possible. My own death. That of the only reader left to enjoy the totality of its leveraged future credit.

    “Mystery writers are ingenious. Like the murderers they dream up, they weave a web of deception and misdirection, and also like the killers they drop occasional clues for the alert reader to seize upon – though rarely obvious enough for the reader to out-guess the author. It becomes something of a game, the writer and reader vying to come to the solution.”

    I won!
    Null Immortalis.

    [If you put “tontine” and “nullimmortalis” (sic) – careful with spelling! – into a Google search and then, after clicking, re-click at the bottom on ‘If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included’, you will see 321 current examples where I have used the word ‘tontine’ in my Gestalt Real Time Reviewing, a crucial factor, over many years, in my ethos of empirical literary critiques as tantamount to a religion.]


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