Book review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969)
tl;dr: Gives a LOT of background context to the film.
The classic novel that inspired ‘the greatest crime film of all time’
Tyrant, blackmailer, racketeer, murderer – his influence reaches every level of American society. Meet Don Corleone, a friendly man, a just man, a reasonable man. The deadliest lord of the Cosa Nostra. The Godfather.
But no man can stay on top forever, not when he has enemies on both sides of the law. As the ageing Vito Corleone nears the end of a long life of crime, his sons must step up to manage the family business. Sonny Corleone is an old hand, while World War II veteran Michael Corleone is unused to the world of crime and reluctant to plunge into the business.
Both the police and ruthless rival crime lords scent blood in the water. If the Corleone family is to survive, it needs a ruthless new don. But the price of success in a violent life may be too high to bear…
A modern masterpiece, The Godfather is a searing portrayal of the 1940s criminal underworld. Still shocking long after its initial publication, this compelling tale of blackmail, murder and family values is a true classic.
When we got Sky Cinema a few months ago, I was happy to be able to re-watch The Godfather. Then Paramount+ came along and added The Offer, which made me want to re-re-watch it. Seeing The Offer, however, reminded me that I bought The Godfather as an e-book a while back when it was on offer, but hadn’t read it yet. Now’s the time!
The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone family as well as the Corleone Crime Family. From father/boss Vito to his three sons, his foster son/consigliere, and the people around them. These days most people will probably have seen the films before picking up the book, so giving a plot summary feels a bit redundant.
The book covers the first film, and parts of the second. For instance, Vito’s background is in the book but doesn’t make it onto film until The Godfather: Part 2. There are characters and subplots that hardly get a mention in the film, but have much more expanded roles in the book – Johnny Fontane and Lucy Mancini being prime examples.
Because the film follows the book rather closely, a benefit of having the author co-write the manuscript no doubt, there are a lot of things that you recognise from the film(s), but the motivations are made clearer because we know more about what goes on inside people’s heads in a way that we don’t when we’re watching a film.
I really enjoyed it.
It’s funny how some people give the advice to aspiring writers that adverbs are the devil (“she said jokingly”), but it doesn’t seem to have done Mario Puzo’s sales any harm. I enjoyed getting a look inside some cultures that are very far from my Lutheran Protestant law-abiding Swedish roots.
Puzo has a way with words, he describes characters in very specific ways that makes them really come to life. Sometimes the tone is a little almost fairytale-like, which seems odd at first but still works.
To cut things short: top notch book, would recommend anyone who’s into Mobster period pieces, or, obviously, the film trilogy. In fact, the books are said to be a trilogy too, even if The Sicilian and Omertà aren’t actual sequels, but I’ve bought them too, and maybe this time it won’t take me a year and a half before I actually read them.
5 out of 5 offers you cannot refuse.