I’ve finished this book a while ago and although I’ve been thinking about it, I still don’t know what to say about it. I could tell you it is like no book I have read before, and that would be true; it would also tell you next to nothing.
I can’t help feeling that if there are hard and fast rules novels are supposed to be written by, this book breaks every single one of them. The reader is dealing with a narrator interrupting the story at the most heart-stopping moments. And that’s the least of it. That same narrator insists on giving future plot developments away, objecting to what happens in the story, trying to inject his own ideas of what the story should be like into the narrative and leaving whole sections out because he found them boring as a child.
Here’s the idea behind the story.
When the narrator got struck down with pneumonia as a boy his father helped him kill the boring hours in bed by reading him a story called ‘The Princess Bride’ as written by S. Morgenstern. The story enthralled the boy to such an extent that years later he moves heaven and earth to find a copy of it for his own son. It is only when his son mentions that he found the book unreadable that he narrator discovers that his own father left whole sections out when he read the story out loud. The narrator then decides to publish a readable version of ‘The Princess Bride’ for kids like his son. This readable version is the book the reader gets to enjoy.
This in itself is a big scam. With the narrator of the story being William Goldman, who is a very real author and screenwriter, it is very tempting to assume that there really is such a book as ‘The Princess Bride’ written by a man called S. Morgenstern. The way in which Mr. Goldman tells his story makes this illusion stronger; he inserts enough details of a personal nature to make the reader believe that he was indeed bedridden by pneumonia and listening to his father reading a story to him. The way in which he puts his personal opinions and experiences into the story strengthens that illusion. In fact, the illusion got so strong that I had to keep on reminding myself that all of this book was the product of William Goldman’s imagination. And that in and off itself makes this book a work of genius.
The actual story within the story - The Princess Bride – is no less brilliant. On the surface it is a rather standard fairytale in which the most beautiful girl in the world falls in love with a poor boy only to think she’s lost him forever and consent to marry an evil prince. What follows is one long adventure in which some of the bad guys turn out to be good, other bad guys proof themselves more evil than they at first appear and love conquers all, even that which can’t be conquered, even by love.
However, even comparing this book to a fairytale isn’t quite right. Fairytales ultimately are about good conquering evil and that evil being punished. The Princess Bride doesn’t always deliver when it comes to those expectations, which makes this one of the most surprising and unpredictable books I’ve ever read. The funny thing is that there were times while reading the book that I wasn’t at all sure whether or not I was enjoying myself; I would get angry with the narrator for interrupting the story or upset about what was happening in the story. It was only after I finished the whole book, including the extra chapter called ‘Buttercup’s Baby’ that I realised how incredibly clever, funny and innovative this book actually was.
All I know for sure right now is that:
1. I’ll need to watch the movie (even though I almost never watch movies), and
2. I will have to re-read this book in the not too distant future because I’m sure there are quite a few nuances I have missed (even though I rarely re-read books).
What I have found is not just a book that appears to break all the rules, but also a book that makes me break all my own rules. And that in and of itself makes it worth every single one of the five stars I’m giving it.