Thursday, August 20, 2015

Jaws by Peter Benchley

The small town of Amity is a town that gorges itself on summer, the towns resident population swelling by thousands across the summer as the wealthy descend on the town to enjoy the sun and the beaches.  The resident population depends on the parasitic relationship with their summer visitors, the money they earn in the short three month window has to last through the other nine months of the year.  A lean year is a challenge, but a truly bad summer can echo for years to come.  Luckily they have not had to face a lean summer for years - but that luck is about to run out.

It starts with an innocent swim in the small hours, a swim that will end in fear and death for Chrissie Watkins.  For Police Chief Martin Brody her death marks the beginning of the worst time of his life - professionally and personally.  Wanting to protect the people of Amity, he wants to report the attack but the Mayor and other members of the community block him at every turn - worried about the summer folks finding out about the attack and not coming,  Despite the contempt with which the summer folks are seen by some, they are the lifeblood of the community.  When a second death occurs and then a third the news leaks out and things just get that much harder - for Brody and Amity.  As the death count mounts Brody learns more about his town than he ever wanted to know.

Until now my only experience of Jaws was watching the movie, and I am not ashamed to admit that every time I watch it I get the shivers when I am anywhere near the ocean.  The movie is atmospheric and creepy, partly because it takes so long for you to see the shark in the first place!  I was expecting the book to be a lot like the movie and I was extremely surprised to realise how different it actually was.  I'm not particularly prudish, but I was surprised by the language in the book - I didn't realise that swearing like a sailor was the thing back in the 1970s or that a publisher would have allowed a book to be published with so many swear words (and those swear words in particular)!  I was also surprised by how much Brody drank - it seemed like there was a beer or some other form of alcohol in every scene.

For a retro read (one more than ten years old) there is a lot of currency in Jaws - partly driven by the character development and the timeless story of a small community that survives by the skin of its teeth.  There are other themes that appear too, particularly in the comparison between the summer folk who come and enjoy their summers, and the local people who hang in for life and live in a parasitic relationship with the summer folk and their money.  I don't remember there being so much tension between Brody and his wife Ellen in the movie, and it was interesting to explore the relationship and the themes of resentment and lose - particularly as it seems to reflect the era as well.  There are some interesting surprises here too in the expanded story which includes personal pressure, secrets, and conspiracies - and did I mention the mob?  Jaws was well worth a read, and now I have read it I plan to watch the movie again to see how close the movie is to the book.

If you like this then try:
  • Meg by Steven Alten
  • Jurassic park by Michael Crichton
  • Congo by Michael Crichton

Reviewed by Brilla

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