Lucinda Elliot

Re-reading Mario Puzo’s 1969 ‘The Godfather’

I first read this at seventeen, longer ago than I care to admit.

I thought the writing style was poor in places even then.

I re-read it because Albert Zukerman recommends studying the techniques the author uses as a writer of popular fiction.

He is all admiration of Puzo’s ability to create a larger than life character in Vito Corleone, He explains how he makes him sympathetic to the reader, his plotting techniques, and the methods he uses to create and build tension, etc. I can see that there is no doubt that Puzo is skillful in these areas, or that his writing is vivid and his story gripping.

Zuckerman makes the interesting general point that, ‘What counts in determining character for the reader is limited largely to what we actually see the character do as opposed to what is said about him.’ This is interesting; it can be applied to all sorts of morally ambiguous characters whose worst deeds take place out of that reader’s sight.

Early on in the book, we see Don Corleone grant the wishes of various people who have been unjustly treated. This is without any financial reward, and so a clever stroke on the part of the author. The Don appears as less evil than the corrupt representatives of powerful institutions.
However, I do find the writing style to be dire in places. For example, descriptions are repeated too often; for instance, Sonny’s ‘heavy cupid face’.

I leave out the descriptions of a more intimate parts of him. I did, in fact, once see a man endowed like that – exposing himself to me on the underground. Evidently, he hadn’t found another Lucia, who worships Sonny’s organ (her problem could probably have been solved by her doing a lot of pelvic floor exercises rather than resorting to an operation).

Of course, a book should only be judged by the standards of the era in which it was written. This was written in the late 1960’s, about Italian Amerians in the immediate post war era. Accordingly, we shouldn’t expect it to reflect attitudes towards women that are anything but repressive. I suppose in a way, the fact that Lucia is depicted sympathetically was comparitively advanced for the time.

Still, I don’t think that excuses the purile humour, that attitude of gloating dirty mindedness. A reader on Goodreads likened it to Benny Hill. That nudge-nudge-wink-wink attitude wasn’t an inevitable attitude as the 1970’s emerged from the 1960’s (yes, I’m so ancient I actually remember the 1970’s) . Interestingly, it doesn’t feature in the film, which came out quite soon after the book.

Three stars for the cleverness of writing a book with such massive general appeal, even if the writing style is often dismal.

I saw that a reader on Goodreads who gave a low star rating was admonished by another reader that she ought to ‘enjoy the well written book’. Perhaps I will be given the same advice.

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