Vertigo (the novel)

Over the past decade or so, there have been a number of reissues of books that have been overshadowed by their film adaptations. Several years ago, I very much enjoyed reading The Bad Seed by William March, a slightly kitsch but nevertheless fantastic slab of American Gothic from 1954 about a psychopathic young girl who embarks on an orgy of murder. This story inspired a watered-down film version several years later and presumably the name for Nick Cave’s backing band.

I recently went to Bexhill to look at the Pavilion, and desperately trying to find something else to do in Bexhill afterwards that didn’t involve going to church or a funeral (the only other forms of entertainment there), I stumbled across a rather brilliant second hand book shop, which had a lot of these reissues at a very reasonable price. I bought a handful along with a whole load of other stuff, raising my reading pile to a daunting height in the process.

First off the pile was Vertigo by Boileau & Narcejac. Originally in French under the title of D’entre les Morts, and then in English as The Living and the Dead, it’s a good, dark psychological thriller of the old school, very tightly written, and indeed, tautly plotted (although why it took two people to write it I’m not sure, as it’s very short). The film version is surprisingly faithful, except on a few points which I won’t reveal here, but it was very strange following such a familiar story in its original setting of war-time Paris. Also, even though James Stewart’s performance was about as dark and twisted as Hollywood got in the fifties, the protagonist here descends still deeper into a state of disturbing obsession, to the point of creepiness. Well worth checking out if you ever come across it, and you can probably read it in an afternoon if you’ve got a clear schedule.

Still sitting on my pile, The Graduate by Charles Webb (who now lives in Hove of all places), and Odd Man Out
by F.L. Green. Before that, however, I’m finally going to tackle Catch-22, something I’ve been putting off for about fifteen years.

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5 Responses to “Vertigo (the novel)”

  1. Nice review! I like the tone and style of your writing – only if I had such talent 🙂

    Nice site by the way!

  2. Very kind of you to say so!

  3. I’ll have to try that out. Very often you find that the novel versions of films are more like short stories. Says something about the film-maker’s art, I guess.

    I can recommend Catch 22 tho. The only one of my A’Level set texts that didn’t almost put me off reading for life!

    xx.S

  4. I like Catch-22 but prefer Heller’s second novel, Something Happened, which is black as hell but really really good.

    Will be interested to know what you make of The Graduate (or made, if it turns out that you reviewed it later on in your blog, but in an entry I haven’t come to yet). I read it a few years ago and thought it was rubbish: all dialogue, no insight into the characters. Thinking again, that could have made it brilliant. So maybe I should revisit it too. Penguin are reissuing it as a Modern Classics in a few months so obviously someone there thinks it’s good. Or else they had some covers left over.

  5. No, still on the to-read pile. About five books down.

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