Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review - Boileau & Narcejac's Vertigo

Vertigo (The Living and the Dead/D'entre les Mortes) by Boileau and Narcejac
Published by: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: 1956
Format: Paperback, 170 Pages
Challenge: Thriller and Suspense
Rating: ★★★
To Buy
Roger Flavieres begrudgingly went into the police force, but after his partner dies tragically because of his own fear of heights he quits and goes into the law. One day his old school friend Gevigne looks him up because he is in the midst of a very odd situation at home. His wife, Madeleine, seems remote. She has also been behaving very oddly. Gevigne is convinced it has something to do with Madeleine's great grandmother, Pauline Lagerlac, who killed herself. He's not sure what is going on, but thinks the the spirit of Pauline is inhabiting his wife. Flavieres, thinking it perhaps an act of a dissatisfied wife is thrown when he learns that Madeleine knows nothing of Pauline. Intrigued he agrees to trail her. Flavieres instantly becomes obsessed with Madeleine, whose behaviour bears out Gevigne's theory. She sits in a hotel room in a house that Pauline once lived in and often visits Pauline's grave, but not with a sense of someone visiting an ancestors grave, but of someone visiting their home. After Flavieres rescues Madeleine from a suicide attempt by drowning, the same method Pauline used, he decides not to leave her side. But in the fatalistic days leading up to full out war with Germany, Paris is hardly the place to keep a vibrant, young woman in the here and now, versus slipping into some unhappy past. What Flavieres had dreaded from his first loosing his heart to Madeleine comes to pass. On a frantic drive through the country she rushes out of the car and into a church with a tall bell tower. Unable to follow her to such heights, Flaviers cannot stop the inevitable, Madeleine throws herself off the top of the tower. Having lost the woman he loves and with the war beginning, Flavieres leaves. He leaves Gevigne being investigated for his wife's murder, he leaves his practice and he leaves France. Four years later he returns to Paris a broken drunkard. But a new obsession gripes him when he sees a woman in a newsreel who is Madeleine, but isn't at the same time. Rushing to Marseilles he eventually encounters Renee Sourange, Madeleine's doppelganger. Flavieres becomes more obsessed than ever thinking that Renee IS Madeleine. That it is possible for someone to live again. Just as it took awhile for Madeleine to realize she was once Pauline, he is sure that Renee will eventually realize she is Madeleine. But what if the truth is darker than that, not dealing with spirits, but with the connivances of man?

There is no chance while reading this book that you will be able to separate it from the film it became. Vertigo is one of Hitchcock's best films and one of my favorites. But, it is interesting to see what captured Hitchcock's imagination and what he kept and what he discarded. The book is written in a very basic prose with all the facts laid bare before you. At first there is no mystery. Flavieres has all the information handed to him and he just must bear witness to the veracity of Gevigne's observations. It is more Flavieres inner self loathing and self obsession with Madeleine that is the driving force of the book. None of the characters are very likable, and Madeleine does not seem the type of woman to entrance and capture the ferocity of feelings she receives from Flavieres. Once Madeleine "lives again" it's just a waiting game as to who will break first. Will Flavieres drink himself to death? Will Renee admit she is Madeleine? Or is it all in Flavieres head? If you have seen the film, you will know that the outcome is tragic. But the book is even darker, laying the death of Renee not just on Flavieres conscious but, quite literally, on his hands. Instead of Renee staying for any real affection, she just seems to be playing her part a second time and reenacting the earlier mystery to ride herself of Flavieres. The fatalism of life during wartime is perfectly captured in the downward spiral of these two souls who are desperately lost. The original title, The Living and the Dead, or in a more direct translation, Enter the Dead, is more fitting to the book than Hitchcock's title Vertigo. Even if it is that downward spiral that Hitchcock captured in a more mysterious, more visual way. But the tower, the grey dress, the painting, the drawing, the hair... all of it are essential to both. All of it comes together as a fascinating study of man.


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