11 May 2010

Thomas M. Disch, The Prisoner, 1969

This new Penguin edition of Disch’s novelisation – the one that, in his lifetime, he resented every reprint of – is timed to coincide with the recent miniseries remake. Disch contracted to write this for a small fee while particularly short of cash, even before he caught a few episodes of it on US television, and he felt no particular affinity to the series but went on to create his own kind of embellishment on what he had seen with little regard as to how his novel might match the series’ end result. It certainly diverges from it in any number of ways, but that’s possibly explained by the (very likely grafted on) notion that this was meant as a sequel: Number 6 has been recaptured, and he goes through the motions once more with similar tenacity but with a very different set of results. I didn’t see this as a sequel at all, but I like the notion that The Prisoner’s deliberately inexplicable nature can give rise to different interpretations and outcomes from its themes. Given the circumstances of its conception this isn’t considered a great Disch novel – understandably so, although I still found it to be elegant throughout, particularly the eloquent cat-and-mouse dialogue between Number 6 and Number 2 which felt exactly as it should, and which gives an indication of why Disch was probably right to be offered this gig: he made a more mentally stimulating job of it than, say, Philip K. Dick possibly would have, despite some multiple-identity and dystopian overtones that would now be considered Dickian. Certainly one for the completists of either Disch or The Prisoner, but in many ways actually better than might be expected.  PY


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