I watched the film of this book a while ago with Habiba and didn’t much like it. In retrospect, the part that turned me off it was the sappy love story between the two sappy blondies. One of the (many) good things about books is that they can’t be ruined by cheesy acting – however one imagines the characters delivering their lines, it will be completely appropriate to one’s expectations. I would have liked to have read the book first – I couldn’t get the images of the actors out of my mind.
Anyway – the book. It’s an entertaining read, not least because of the irreverent and even subversive manner in which it’s written. The version I read (it was Habiba’s copy, in fact) included an introduction that talked about how the novel came to be filmed, as well as the first chapter of a sequel, Buttercup’s Baby. The novel itself starts with an introduction, where the author – or rather, the authorial voice – talks about how his father read S Morgenstern’s The Princess Bride to him as a child – but only read the best parts – and how as an adult he resolved to make the book accessible to his son by abridging it.
This framing device of notes on the abridgement crops up throughout and is a major source of the book’s humour. The fictional Morgenstern, author of the original text, wasn’t so much interested in the adventure and romance of the story, but was instead intent on satirising the Florinese royal family and traditions, as well as doctors. Goldman’s narrative voice interrupts Buttercup, Westley, Inigo and Fezzik constantly in italicised passages explaining that the next 50 or whatever pages of the original consist of detailed descriptions of this or that aspect of life, and that, while, according to the experts in Florinese literature, they represent a masterful satire, they don’t advance the plot at all and are pretty boring.
These notes are also full of details of Goldman’s life – his unhappy marriage to his incisive psychologist wife, his unhappy fatherhood to his unhappy fat son. All of this is completely fictional and adds an extra layer of charm to the story. And the story is undoubtedly quite charming. Buttercup, while capable of being a sappy, lovelorn beauty, can also be utterly pragmatic – once she believes Westley dead she agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck as long as it’s understood that it won’t be for love. Westley is full of understated, dry quips. Fezzik and Inigo form an endearingly inept double act.
When I said that the book was subversive, I referred to Goldman’s interruptions and memories on the topic of fairness. In stories, the good guys always triumph over the bad guys. Here, however, one of the heroes dies, and by the end of the book, the villain of the piece is thwarted but not vanquished and is hot on the trail of the desperately fleeing protagonists. A very unresolved resolution.
The story continues in the first chapter of a supposed sequel, Buttercup’s Baby – a sequel that, Goldman explains in another introduction, he was forbidden from abridging by Morgenstern’s estate. Instead, they want Stephen King to do it. When Goldman goes to visit King in Maine, King tells him his abridgment of The Princess Bride sucked – but he gives him a shot at doing the first chapter of the second book. This new chapter gives a little more of a conclusion to the foregoing story, but introduces fresh mysteries, like the imminent death of Fezzik, the history of Inigo’s one love, and the skinless-faced man who steals Westley and Buttercup’s child. No resolution to this new story is offered, and Goldman puzzles over Morgenstern’s narrative choices and strategy.
The book as a whole is confusing, frustrating – deliberately so – but also readable and humorous. Despite its disparate construction it works as a whole – although it almost doesn’t. The conceit of Goldman simply abridging an existing work rather than writing it himself is certainly not original, but is done in a charmingly unique fashion. One criticism I would offer of this aspect of the novel is that the narrative voices of the Goldman sections and the Morgenstern sections are almost identical. Goldman writes in a distinctive twentieth century American vernacular – and so does Morgenstern. One shouldn’t make too much of that, though.
All in all, a strange, idiosyncratic, but entertaining novel.