Thursday, 26 November 2009

Jaws by Peter Benchley

The beach read you never want to read on the beach, Jaws is another book which has been eclipsed by the subsequent film, although in the case of Spielberg's first blockbuster, that's no disservice to the original novel. Benchley’s thriller was a bestseller when it was published in 1974 and it still holds up pretty well over thirty years later; remarkable, really, considering that one of the main characters is a fish.

Describing the plot feels a bit unnecessary, but for those readers who have somehow avoided Jaws all these years, here goes: large shark terrorises small town. Police chief Martin Brody tries to catch the shark with marine biologist Matt Hooper and fisherman Quint. Shark almost wins...

I had presumed that the film was a faithful interpretation of the book, but Benchley puts a lot more back story into the novel, including Brody’s wife’s disappointment in her marriage. Born into a rich family who summered on Long Island, she daydreams about what her life could have been if only she hadn’t married the local bobby. The arrival of the wealthy Hooper prompts her to organise a dinner party, a concept alien to her husband.

Uncomfortable having posh guests around, Brody starts hitting the rye and ginger and his wife has already told him to slow down by the time the wine is served. No expert on the grape, he isn’t entirely sure what he’s drinking:

He took the bottle of white out of the refrigerator, and as he uncorked it he tangled his tongue trying to pronounce the name of the wine: Montrachet. He arrived at what seemed to him an acceptable pronunciation, wiped the bottle dry with a dishcloth, and took it into the dining room... “A glass of Mount Rachet,” he said. “Very good year, 1970. I remember it well.”

Worried that the lamb is undercooked, half pickled in whiskey and downing the wine, Brody comes over all peculiar halfway through the main course:

He had started to chew a piece of meat when another wave of nausea hit him. Once again sweat popped out on his forehead. He felt detached, as if his body were controlled by someone else. He sensed panic at the loss of motor control. His fork felt heavy, and for a moment he feared it might slip from his fingers and clatter on to the table. He gripped it with his fist and held on. He was sure his tongue wouldn’t behave if he tried to speak. It was the wine, it had to be the wine.

After the disastrous dinner party, catching the great white shark is a piece of cake...

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