Sunday, 25 September 2016

Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The Godfather book cover by Mario Puzo
Let me start out by saying that I actually didn't want to read this in the slightest little bit. It was offered to me by my secretary at work, who I actually really like, and my super brilliant social skills kicked in and I panicked and said 'Yes please!' That's right, I read it out of obligation. Do I have any regrets? No, I do not. The Godfather is, to my absolute surprise, actually very good. It's a classic for a reason.

Plot summary: Almost fifty years ago, a classic was born. A searing portrayal of the Mafia underworld, The Godfather introduced readers to the first family of American crime fiction, the Corleones, and their powerful legacy of tradition, blood, and honor. The seduction of power, the pitfalls of greed, and the allegiance to family—these are the themes that have resonated with millions of readers around the world and made The Godfather the definitive novel of the violent subculture that, steeped in intrigue and controversy, remains indelibly etched in our collective consciousness.

The only previous experience I had with The Godfather was when a boyfriend sat me down to watch the three hour movie... of which I promptly slept through at least two and a half hours. Ever since then I've used the movie as an example of one of those massively over-rated pop culture tripes, that everybody (especially men, in this case) feels compelled to say they like but nobody actually does. I couldn't follow who the characters were, there didn't seem to be much of a plot and, to be honest, I couldn't understand a damn word they were saying.

I haven't rewatched the film since reading the book, so I can't comment on it fairly. I barely remember it (sleeping through the majority of a film will do that to you) but I've read that it sticks very close to the book. With that in mind, it may just be that I find it easier to follow fiction in print than on the screen. There has to be a reason for it, because I ended up liking The Godfather book an awful lot more than I did the film.

It still took me twenty to thirty pages to work out who was who, but in a 600 page book that's hardly the end of the world. It seemed quite heavy going at this point - it was mostly explanatory prose with some dialogue thrown in - and I still wasn't sure if I was going to like it. There are a lot of characterS in The Godfather and it does take some time to get to know them all.

That's the thing about this book though. For all its reputation and controversy, there's not all that much action. There's some, obviously, and I'll get back to that later, but it's more about the Family ties, the atmosphere and the dialogue. For that to work, you do need to know a little of their background, so I can forgive it for being a little slow to start.

I'm not sure at which point I realised I was enjoying this book. It's quite slow-paced, but I was engrossed before I really knew it. I liked the tone of it, I think. It's very dark - whenever I think of it, I picture it hidden in the shadows somehow. There are some amazing twists and turns that I didn't see coming and made me literally gasp out loud.

It is brutal, in parts, but it's more that the decisions and plans made are brutal rather than the actual violence itself. It's a lengthy, notorious novel about the Mafia so obviously there is some violence but it's no more graphic than what you'd see in an everyday thriller (and less graphic than some).

However, The Godfather isN'T perfect. The thing that irritated me the most is Mario Puzo's apparent need to explain what a character means when they've finished speaking. As an example:

*Somebody speaks*
'What was important was that Barzini by speaking out was saying that...'

This happens a lot and it's profoundly irritating. I know what the inference was from his speach, I read the damn thing. I don't need to have a translator bobbing along next to me. God. It's otherwise written to a reasonable standard, which made this particular issue stand out all the more. 'What Kay Adams meant by this was...' ARRGGHHH.

Secondly, the author's view towards women. I know, I know. 1960s Italian-American mobsters. I know. But it goes further than that. Minor spoilers, but only for the minorest of sub-plots:

Highlight to read.
Okay, so there's this woman who won't sleep with a particular Doctor for months. She eventually does, and then cries, and then the Doctor says, "Oh, it's because you have a giant vagina! Women have killed themselves because of that before. I'll pay someone to fix it and then I'll test out the results!" And then she says, "Oh, thank you for still being willing to have sex with me!" to which he replies "No, no. We'll have to have anal instead." So she cried and thanks him even more.

It gets worse. She goes for the surgery and they detail it explicitly. A whole page is dedicated to how to surgery is performed - 
'Kellner was working on the diaohragm sling, the T forceps held the vaginal flap, and exposing the ani muscle and the fasci which formed its sheath. His gauze-covered fingers were pushing aside loose connective tissue.'
A whole page. It's just weird and unnecessary. But seriously, WHY IS THIS HERE!?

I can deal with the whole 'women deserve to be beaten if they don't behave properly.' I don't like it and I certainly don't condone it, but it was somewhat to be expected in a book like this. The above section is unnecessary, crude and incredibly offensive. The whole thing (her reaction included) bothered me to such an extent that I had to put the book down for a day.

If I discount that scene, I did really enjoy The Godfather. There are a few other bits that didn't really make sense for them to be there at all and that scene bothers me a lot, but we're talking four pages out of a 600 page book. I loved the slow pace and the atmosphere of The Godfather. The twists take you completely by surprise because I felt as though I knew every character completely, and genuinely felt a little lurch in my stomach as I realised what was happening. I don't think I'll read the next book, The Sicilian, as it follows somebody completely different, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Godfather and I will be looking for my own copy soon.

Read Laura's review of The Godfather at Devouring Texts.

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