The Third Man – Graham Greene
The film certainly has a very memorable screenplay, so I thought it was worth checking out the source material. We have a bit of a quirk here, as the screenplay pre-dated the book – but Greene certainly handled the transition well. Over the years, I’ve run pretty hot and cold with Greene’s work. Some of it is very engaging, while others leave me with a real sense of detachment. To be frank, The Power and the Glory falls into the latter category. Much like the movie, Harry Lime is a spirit moving throughout the story. What I liked about the book is that, while Rollo Martins is certainly interested in getting to the bottom of the mystery, he remains even more morally ambiguous than he did in the movie.
Being There – Jerzy Kozinski
Again, I’ve seen the movie but never got around to reading this book (novella?). The only other Kozinski book I’ve read is The Painted Bird, and this one is certainly less intense. I liked it, but it really does feel like a minor work. I can understand how people really enjoyed the satirical look at Washington back in 1971, but it comes off as a bit dated these days. All in all, it seems a bit thin and I actually think things were better fleshed out in Ashby’s film.
Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon
Get ready for a little comic book geek heresy. I quite preferred this book to Kavalier & Clay. Like his earlier work, Chabon does an incredible job of establishing a setting. With this book, however, rather than worrying about historical detail – he allows himself to create his own universe. By the end of the book, it is hard to believe that Sitka, Alaska isn’t actually a giant metropolis. To me, K&K meandered a bit too much, and falls apart in the second half. A bit of the same thing occurs in YPU, but Chabon keeps it from unraveling completely and his work developing characters improved immensely as our hero, Meyer Landsman is a wonderfully complex and multi-dimensional character. It is almost as if Chabon was channeling Richler here.
Run - Anne Patchett
This book came highly recommend by my parents. I was immensely underwhelmed. It is lovely and polite, but it is also unbelievably bland. The plot is relatively simple, and I would be surprised if someone could not correctly guess where it was headed. Patchett makes the mistake of hinting at elements of racism and corruption but never addresses them. Her characters are also very wooden, and this leads to a drama-free dramatic novel. I get the sense the Patchett is trying to say something with this book, but she fell far short.
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
While The Third Man is a good book that was commissioned as a screenplay, this feels like a book written with the intention of being optioned for a movie. I have no idea how this one became such a phenomenon. As a mystery, it really isn’t very mysterious. As a thriller, the thrilling moments are few and far between. I felt as it I was treading water, turning page after page. It was overly sensationalistic at times, while coming up short in the suspense department at other times. I also think it is a shame that the title was changed from Men Who Hate Women. This one is certainly about misogyny, if nothing else – I only wish that a bit more substance could have been inserted somewhere into the 800 pages. I won’t be reading the sequels.