Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel is, perhaps, overshadowed by Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film. Nevertheless, The Godfather is a sensation even now and is a complex and absorbing tale of loyalty, betrayal and revenge. We learn, as the characters do, that nothing is as important as family.
Set in 1940’s New York, the story opens with a court case, the only one present in a book so filled with crime, and we see several characters building the courage to ask for the help of their precious Godfather. The Godfather, Don Corleone, busy with the marriage of his daughter Connie, is feared as much as he is loved. Chief of the Sicilian Corleone mafia family, the Godfather takes pride in the care and protection he offers to his extended family. When he is shot war breaks out between the five mafia families of New York and his liberal son Michael is embroiled in the action and must go into hiding. Each suffering extreme hardships, the families must either war until one is victorious or accept a fragile peace.
The Godfather is still an evocative page-turner despite being over fifty years old. Sometimes its varying pace and inclusion of elongated chapters of character’s back stories can juxtapose its thrilling twists but the deaths, of which there are many, are enjoyably shocking, each coming at unexpected moments. The text itself can be repetitive and laboriously written but it must be remembered that the book is of its time and, despite such niggles, still provides a thrilling read.
Filled with memorable characters, from the singer Johnny Fontane, to the Don’s son Michael, the Godfather is richly populated. The picture the book paints of the Don presents an imposing but loving man who seems to breathe with every turn of the novel’s pages. The women who inhabit the world of the book often suffer at the hands of men but, as the story progresses, they gradually gain strength and, though still dependent on men, accept the courage they must shoulder for their husbands, brothers and sons.
Of course the infamous scenes are all present, including, notably, the finding of a horse’s head in a bed. Puzo’s words create a horrifying image that helps set the tone of the novel. Sex, alcohol and fighting abound and one must prepare for many a busted lip and merciless beating. The book, primarily, is a examination of human nature – The Godfather’s cool level-headedness is contrasted by the fly-of-the-handle attitudes held by the likes of Sonny and Carlo, making for turbulent outcomes.
A classic in its own right, The Godfather is a must read for any fan of the cinematic trilogy or of more recent projects such as Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.