Vertigo Paperback – May 8 1997
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This story of obsession, deceit and human frailty has an almost overpowering intensity... Alongside Patricia Highsmith Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac deserve recognition as part of the great tradition of chilling psychological crime fiction. Crime Fiction Lover Makes a fascinating companion to the Hitchcock film, and is, I think, an amazing book in its own right Lit Love Gallic noir at its most psychologically acute Crime Scene A fantastic book Col's Criminal Library One of the pleasures of reading the book is noting how it compares with, and in places even improves on, the film The National A timeless thriller Connexion --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Pierre Boileau (1906-89) and Thomas Narcejac (1908-98) are two of the most celebrated names in French crime fiction. Together they collaborated on more than forty thrillers, most notably Vertigo and She Who Was No More, turned into classics of noir cinema by Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot respectively. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Set in war-time Paris, former detective Flavieres is asked by an old friend Gevigne to keep an eye on his wife. Something appears to be troubling Madeleine but her husband can't put his finger on it.
Flavieres, a lawyer and a loner agrees and very soon becomes obsessed with Madeleine. Madeleine behaves strangely, visiting a graveyard, renting a hotel room for afternoon visits, penning letters but ripping them into pieces before attempting to drown herself. Flavieres rescues her and as a consequence his relationship with her becomes more intimate (not in a physical sense).
She is convinced that she has lived before, as one of her ancestors ' Pauline Lagerlac - her great grandmother who committed suicide. The Paris narrative ends with the death of Madeleine falling from a high church tower in a town away from the capital. Flavieres again, overcome by vertigo is impotent and unable to prevent her sudden actions.
At this point in reading, I realised I had seen the film albeit some years previously. Long enough ago to have forgotten the outcome anyway.
The second part of our book, picks up four years later in Marseilles. Flavieres is still alone, his life revolving around his next drink. A chance viewing of a newsreel clip featuring DeGaulle in Marseilles and Flavieres believes he catches a glimpse of Madeleine as the camera pans the crowd.
His obsession reawakens.
Fantastic book, complex, convoluted plot but plausible enough or at least not too fanciful to require a suspension of belief.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
French writers Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau wrote several mysteries together back in the 1950s, and two of them became famous movies, DIABOLIQUE and VERTIGO. They specialized in twisty plots and surprise endings, with morally ambiguous characters and lots of mood and atmosphere. The original novel of VERTIGO, D'ENTRE LES MORTES (From Among the Dead), is set in Paris, not San Francisco, and the surprise ending is quite different from Hitchcock's. It's actually a better ending, but the film censors in the '50s would never have allowed Hitchcock to use it. It's interesting to note all the ways the original and the film compare and contrast. If you're a Hitchcock fan like me, find a copy of the novel and see for yourself. It's excellent.
Give the authors of the book credit- while the film is wonderful due to the performances and direction, you can't discount how clever the plot is. It's a shame that this book is not more widely available.
This is, of course, the book on which the famous Hitchcock film is based, a film I have always admired more than enjoyed, partly because I'm not a huge fan of Kim Novak. The plot is very similar to the book, though Hitchcock has changed the emphasis to make more of the vertigo aspect. Apparently the book was originally called D'entre les morts (From Among the Dead), and this is a much more apt title. Flavières does suffer from vertigo and this was the cause of him being indirectly responsible for the death of his partner when he worked for the police, and also provides a crucial plot point later on in the book. But the focus of the book is much more on the breakdown of Flavières' hold on reality as he comes to believe that Madeleine has the ability to return, like Eurydice, from the dead.
The book is set in wartime, with the first section taking place in Paris just as the war is beginning and the second part four years later in Marseilles as it is heading towards its end. This gives a feeling of disruption and displacement which is entirely missing from the film, set as it is in peacetime America. It is impossible for Flavières to track Madeleine's past because records have been destroyed, and people are constantly on the move, both physically and socially, as black marketeers and weapons manufacturers grow wealthy and those who can, leave the parts of France most affected by war. Flavières failed the medical for the army, for reasons left deliberately rather vague, and feels he is despised by strangers who see an apparently fit man avoiding service.
Another major difference is that in the book Flavières is a loner – or, at least, alone. He appears to have no friends and gets no fulfilment from his job as a lawyer. In the film, Scottie Ferguson (the Flavières character) has a devoted friend in Midge Wood, and is an all-round decent chap, although guilt-ridden. Flavières is not a decent chap! He is a weak man, pitiable almost, whose obsession with Madeleine seems like an extension of an already unstable mental state rather than the cause of it. As the book progresses, he steadily disintegrates, and his behaviour becomes ever more disturbing and crueller towards Madeleine for not admitting to being who he thinks she is.
The book is very well written, and well translated for the most part, although with an annoying tendency to leave some phrases untranslated, such as names of paintings or institutions, meaning I had to resort to Google from time to time to catch a nuance that a translation would have made clear. Apparently, according to the notes in the book, Boileau and Narcejac wanted to create a new style of mystery, away from the standard fare of whodunnits and hard-boileds, putting the victim at the centre of the plot. Boileau was responsible for coming up with the plots while Narcejac created the characterisations. In my view, a partnership that worked brilliantly – the plot of this is fiendishly complex, and Flavières' character is a wonderful study of the effect of obsession on a weak mind. Overall I thought it was much darker than the film, mainly because Flavières may be a victim but there is no attempt to make him out as a good guy - an example of how to write an unlikeable character in such a way as to make him fascinating. The beginning is somewhat slow but I suspect that may be because I knew the plot from the film. As it begins to diverge in the second half I found it completely riveting as it drove inexorably towards its darkly satisfying ending.
Unusually for a Hitchcock film, I think the book actually delves more deeply into the psychology and makes it more credible. Hitchcock's decision to elevate the importance of the vertigo aspects somehow makes his Ferguson a less complex and intriguing character than Boileau-Narcejac's Flavières. And the ending of the book is much more satisfying than that of the film. For once, despite my abiding love for Mr Hitchcock, on this occasion the victory goes to the book!
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Pushkin Press.