Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I think I have seen the movie too many times to be able to come to the book with anything like a fair perspective. To be clear, this was on the agenda of almost every movie party I went to or held in high school. I cannot count the number of times I've watched it. It's up there with Monty Python and the Holy Grail for movies of which I can recite long sections without pause. Unfair as it may be, the movie version is my version of this story, and I was not unbiased coming to this book.

This was the January selection for my local book club (as opposed to my virtual book club), chosen by a very close friend. By the time this is posted, the meeting will be long past, although as I write, it's two days in the future. (I'm trying to get ahead of my reviews this year.)

This is a difficult review to write, which you can perhaps tell from the two paragraphs of dithering you've just read. It's not that I disliked the book. It's just that I didn't think the book added anything to the movie. There are more words, sure. And more overt meta-ness. But nothing substantial, nothing to make me gasp, or add another layer of meaning to make me become one of those people who would sniff and say, sure, the movie's okay, but it's nothing compared to the book.

Perhaps it's because that for the most part, what's on the page is in the movie, exactly. (Except for the interjections, and I'll get to those.) The few times that a line is different, it's better in the movie. Take, for instance, Westley's line about Buttercup's perfect breasts and how it would be a shame to spoil them. It's more elegant in the movie than in the book, it trips off the tongue. Goldman tightened the dialogue up in really excellent ways in the movie, and so when I come across a line that is not only clunky, but was fixed in the movie version, it's a little disconcerting.

As for the meta-ness, I may be in the minority here, but I like the way it was incorporated into the movie better. It's more subtle, left more to the audience. (That is not something I thought I'd ever be writing about a movie version of a book. The vast majority of the time, this goes this other way. Movies have to be brasher, more explicit, or at least, they think they do.)  In the book, it's meta, but it's meta with too much explanation. Goldman explains too much and in too much detail what the meta is and what it means, and there is little space left for the reader to do more than take that in and make of it exactly what Goldman seems to want us to make of it.

In the movie, the act of skipping, eliding, it happens on the screen without explanation, and we're allowed a little space to to play with ideas about what was cut and how much, and that satisfies me more.

All that said, I did enjoy it. It's a fun read. But I guess I was expecting that it was going to add a whole other level to the movie, and what it did was make me want to watch it again. I don't know if I'd bother reading the book again. It's great fun. It's just not the movie.

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