To be read with: A glass of red vino made with grapes from the old country. Chianti so red it would make your ma weep and the Don kiss the tips of his fingers.
I decided to read Mario Puzo’s The Godfather a little while ago after I was instructed that my beloved Jane Austen was a poor reading choice and that I should be reading Puzo instead. I was informed that “in other novels there were deaths, but in The Godfather, there were tragedies” (Michael Vecchio, 2015). Having completed all 479 pages, I shall now split my review into three sections: my opinion on the plot, my opinion on the writing itself, and how I feel if fares in comparison to Jane Austen.
Reading The Godfather is like being privileged to watch a beautiful game of chess unfold. It was fun and exciting to observe the powerful families of New York’s underworld battling it out for power and respect, trying to predict the outcome before the pages tell you what happens. Mario Puzo is a very intelligent writer in that he makes the Corleone family relatable to the reader and semi-honorable in their goals. They are a family that does not believe the law has the citizens best interests at heart and instead provides a different kind of protection and justice. By opening the book with the godfather, Don Corleone granting requests of an honorable nature that the law could not provide, Puzo is ensuring that the reader will be rooting for the Corleone family from day one. The Family subscribes to a code of ethics that the other Families lack, which puts the reader at ease with all of their other dealings. Also providing Michael as the insertion point for the reader (a point in which the reader could see themselves in the story) is a great move. Michael Corleone is the favourite son that shunned his father’s “ olive oil business” for years but is eventually drawn in when attacks on the family become personal. This allows the reader to justify rooting for Michael, because he is presented as a good person who has to do the best he can with bad situations. The story kept the pages turning for me, and would be immensely satisfying to anyone who appreciates strategy and calculated warfare.
The writing in The Godfather was a little heavy handed for me, and that could probably be attributed to it being published in the 1960’s and and set in the 1940’s. It fell short of being either noir or thriller, instead being general fiction concerned with crime and revenge. The prose tends to applaud itself and you can tell that Puzo appreciated himself as a writer very much. Reading this book, you could imagine Mario Puzo in front of a typewriter, a heavyset man with oiled hair chomping down on a cigar and taking bites of a genoa salami sandwich in between pages, smiling at his own work. I am not Italian, so maybe the over-the-top writing is authentic for those readers; I failed to overly appreciate it. However that being said, his description of food and wine is excellent. After reading a couple chapters I would invariably make myself some dish to eat that involved olive oil and pasta. In this day and age maybe Mario Puzo would have been a food blogger, waging war against other bloggers in the internet regime.
Reading The Godfather as a female, was invariably underwhelming. It is completely devoid of a female character worth supporting. The female characters do contain variation; some are vapid, some are beautiful and vapid, some are vapid and superficial, some are just ignorant, but all of the characters are in turn submissive and dependent. The amount of times it was written that “he had to have her”, “he had to possess her”, “he had to own her” made my stomach churn. And please do not tell me that this was satirical, that is an insult to my intelligence as well as yours. Even Kay Adams does not have worth or a definition of self without being Michael’s wife. Come on. The women in this book are presented as warm bags of meat that exist to provide sex, offspring, and food. Now comparing this directly with Jane Austen when speaking to me is a bit problematic. Pride and Prejudice was written in 1813 and provides the reader with examples of both positive and negative males and females. It demonstrates that women are not the property of men (or vice versa) but complex individuals with different aspirations and needs. Now we have fast-forwarded 150 years and take about 25 steps back in terms of positive female characters. Pride and Prejudice may not be as fast-paced of a page turner, but it is a little bit sad that when compared with The Godfather, I feel as though if I were in the book, I would have had much better options 150 years earlier. Capisce?
All in all, I think I will be reading the other two books in The Godfather franchise, if with the sole interest of finding out what happens to the Corleone empire. The book was a quick read despite its thick stature, and it read moderately well as crime fiction. It would be interesting to see how the “olive oil business” would have fared differently if Michael Coreleone had met and fallen in love with Elizabeth Bennett instead of Kay Adams. Thank you Michael Vecchio for recommending this book to me, as well as lending me your personal copy. Hope you enjoyed the review and it did not end our friendship!