I decided to start reading The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by Scott Fitzgerald, and was shocked by how short it is. I’ve seen the film and to say it was long would be an understatement, so when I realised that the book is little more than a pamphlet I was taken aback. The same key events occur in the book, just significantly pared down, with a minimum of description. It skips over milestones such as marriage and joining the army with scarcely a backwards glance. The main idea is so interesting, so different from most storylines that I can’t help but feel disappointed with the lack of expansion in the book. Although my stance on film adaptions is generally ‘the book always wins’ I have to say that this case is an exception. Screenwriter Eric Roth may have taken the story to the other extreme in terms of length, yet I feel he has significantly added to it.
The book does include some aspects that the film omits, or skirts around, especially the generally painful atmosphere of watching as Benjamin grows up (or down?) in a family that directs so much negative emotion towards him. Fear, confusion and anger surface over the abnormality which is out of their control. Benjamin’s growing dissatisfaction with his ageing wife is also fascinating, an aspect of the story, and almost certainly of certain people’s lives, which is deemed distasteful by Hollywood, which seeks to glamorise and centralise the romantic element of the story.
Unrelenting in its pace, changes happen in the book before the narrative moves swiftly on. At the end of the novel, there is less than sufficient time to absorb all that has happened over the course of this incredible life, and then its over. The fairly callous, abrupt nature of the writing is certainly a style that makes you think- and although I wish there was more, perhaps the questions raised are designed to be answered in a personal way. Unfortunately my expectations had been primed by the film and so I will never know how I could have interpreted the book alone.
All in all, the style is as weird as the concept, and humanity’s swift rejection of the unfamiliar is clearly represented in the book, with the reader definitely left wanting more. Have you seen the film? Or read the book? Which way round?