Thursday, November 3, 2016

Vertigo: Boileau-Narcejac


This book was originally published in France in 1954 as D'entre les morts; in 1956 it was translated to English and published as The Living and the Dead. It was the basis for Hitchcock's film, Vertigo. There are significant differences between the book and the film but the basic story is the same.

The book opens with Paul Gévigne asking Roger Flavières to watch over his wife and protect her from herself. Gévigne's wife, Madeleine, is acting strangely and he is afraid she will disappear or hurt herself. Gévigne, a wealthy shipbuilder, and Flavières, a lawyer, were once in school together, which explains why Gévigne makes this strange request and why Flavières gives in against his better judgment.

Flavières does start following Madeleine, watching her behavior. Eventually he sees her try to commit suicide by jumping into a river. He saves her and then becomes obsessed with her, continuing to see her and developing a relationship.

All of this takes place in France shortly before the German occupation of France during World War II. The book is a story of obsession and deceit. The plot has many twists and turns after this point and I don't want to reveal any more. If you have seen the movie you can guess some of the plot points... but not all. And if you haven't I don't want to spoil either the book or the movie.

I am very glad I decided to read this book. It was unusual to read a book after I have watched a movie so many times. But having already seen the movie did not spoil the experience because  of the variations in the setting and the mood. A book almost always provides more depth into what is going on with the characters than a film. However, Hitchcock changed the characters and their involvement with each other to present the movie he wanted, so that the movie and book seem very different even though they tell the same basic story. Both are very very good.

Hitchcock's film based on this book is set in San Francisco and he uses that setting with great effect. San Francisco was chosen for the setting early in the screen writing process. The development of the screenplay and the decision on locations to film are discussed at the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki.

The San Francisco locations for scenes in this film are featured in Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal. There are over 90 pages devoted to this film, including many historical and contemporary photos. It is a treasure trove of information for those who love this film and the city of San Francisco.

Per the back of my paperback edition, "Boileau-Narcejac is the nom-de-plume of Pierre Boileau (1906-89) and Thomas Narcejac (1908-98), one of France's most successful writing duos." Pushkin Vertigo has published another title by these authors: She Who Was No More.

Other reviews at:

Col's Criminal Library
the crime segments
His Futile Preoccupations
Tipping My Fedora
A Crime is Afoot
JacquiWine's Journal
Vintage Pop Fictions
Fiction Fan

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Publisher:   Pushkin Vertigo, 2015 (orig. pub. 1954)
Length:      189 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Translated by:  Geoffrey Sainsbury
Setting:      France, World War II
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased this book.



22 comments:

  1. I've often found, Tracy, that when a book and the film adaptation are different, I prefer one or the other. It's good to hear that you found both were excellent in this case (Not that I'm surprised: Hitchcock was quite gifted). I'll admit I've not read the book, but I've always thought the film was terrific. You're making me want to read the book now..

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    1. I guess if I was forced to pick, I would say the book is better in this case (as usual for me) because I like more depth with the characters. But having seen Vertigo so many times before reading the book, it seems entirely separate to me. I would recommend the book to anyone.

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  2. I have seen the movie Tracy which I found to be okay (because the plot has been re-hashed so many times that by the time I saw the movie, it had lost its novelty) but your fine review has me intrigued about the book. I'll try to get a copy.

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    1. I think you would enjoy the book, Neer. I hope you find a copy.

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this one Tracy and thanks for linking to me. I haven't yet read their other book from Pushkin.

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    1. I haven't tried any other books from that publisher, yet, Col. I am interested but too many other books to read right.

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  4. Boileau-Narcejac contributed rather more to the cinema: they also wrote the novel which inspired Les Diaboliques and adapted Les Yeux sans Visage.

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    1. I had read a reference to that somewhere but I did not much information on it. I will definitely look into that more.

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    2. I beg to differ about the above statement that the writers "contributed rather more to the cinema". The two men wrote over thirty novels together and both were writing in the 1930s on their own. Their contributions to cinema came only after decades of writing books. And only a handful of their many books were adapted for the screen in their lifetime.

      If you know the movie Les Diaboliques then you will be greatly surprised by the source novel. 360 degrees apart from the movie version. I liked it for its own but feel the movie surpasses the book. Its more unnerving and believable in telling the story from a woman's point of view and the addition of a supernatural element adds to the unnerving suspense and tension.

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  5. Thanks for the comment above, John. I know very little about Boileau and Narcejac and even less about movie adaptations (and Les Diaboliques). I checked out your blog (thinking I may have missed a review of Vertigo there) and I found you have reviewed (at least) four of the Boileau-Narjecac books and mentioned their connections in other posts. I will be checking those reviews out... although I am sure it will be a while before I can read other books by them. I liked Vertigo enough to be interested in trying something else they wrote.

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  6. I am a huge fan o the movie - the book is really interesting though, and the ending really strange and perverse. I think the plot ingenuity, clever but paternity unreal, feels incongruous with the realistic wartime setting though ...

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    1. I found the whole book very strange, Sergio, and would have struggled to understand what was going on at all if I had not seen the film. But I am easily confused, so it could just be me. One way I judge a book is on whether I would want to reread it, and this one passed that test.

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  7. I loved the film, and was unaware of the book. But your review has intrigued me, Tracy. Thanks also for the info on Footsteps in the Fog. I'd love to have both books handy.

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    1. My husband discovered Footsteps in the Fog, Mathew. He is into film and cinematography and a fan of most Hitchcock movies, and San Francisco and surrounding areas are lovely, so it was a perfect book for him.

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  8. I remember going through a brief Hitchcock phase and watching VERTIGO and then turning it off because it was confusing (I usually like to do other things when watching movies so I know I missed some critical scenes). Will read the book before I attempt to watch the movie again. - K.

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    1. I like to do things while watching movies also, Keishon, but sometimes that is too distracting. Depends on the movie. Vertigo is complex but I have watched it so many times I forget that. It benefits from multiple viewings.

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  9. I recently saw Vertigo again, and wondered about the original book. Thank you very much for this timely review. I will definitely track down a copy, and am looking forward to re-visualizing the story in the French WW2 setting.

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    1. The book is definitely worth reading, Deborah. Significant differences between book and movie, but that makes it even more interesting to read.

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    1. My pleasure, Jose Ignacio. You had some very good points in your review.

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  11. Like everyone else, I know the film well, but have never been temtped to read the book. Perhaps I should change my mind...

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    1. I would have enjoyed the book version of the Vertigo film anyway, Moira, just because it is different, but the real attraction once I got into it was that it was set around World War II. I am easily confused when reading books, and I possibly would have been lost in the book (plot-wise) had I not seen the movie.

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