I wanted to read some westerns on my trip through the southwest, and this one was on my shelf from where a colleague had given it to me last term. I’d picked it up back then but realized that the narration seemed to track the Coen Brothers’ adaptation very closely for the first few pages. A bit of skimming seemed to confirm this was the case throughout, and I put it aside. But now this trip: I was in a rush, didn’t get to a bookstore and so tossed it in my bag.
Reading it through I realized my initial hunch was both right and wrong. The movie and book are very similar, the one tracking the other in a way that, oddly enough, seldom happens with strong adaptations. But what I discovered was that the aspect of the movie that I found the most interesting–after the overt allegory of an old Hollywood ceding place to a new one–the elaborate, complex and beautiful language that I found so interesting it turns out is largely original to the adaptation. The difference is subtle–more a shift in emphasis than anything, a shift rendering the novel’s stylized comic voice a more stylized comico-allegorical one–but it is significant.
A book-movie combo to revisit.