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I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse!
The Godfather - Mario Puzo
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The Godfather - Mario Puzo
Date: 09/03/01, updated on 09/03/01 (2031 review reads)
Advantages: Great story. Flows with ease. Well written. Good overall character development.
Disadvantages: Scenic descriptions would have been a bonus. No female character development. The Family are incorrectly marketed as businessmen, whereas they are hoodlums!
The most renowned gangster in I know of is Michael Corleone, closely followed by his father Vito. I imagine real-life master criminals aspiring to achieve the same fame, fortune and notoriety as the Corleone family, only to realise Mario Puzo does in fact write fiction!
“The Godfather” is a story which spans approximately ten years (excluding the flashbacks), but in reality Puzo has created a multigenerational hero which even the legally minded can identify with. Everyone knows Michael Corleone – he, his family and their associates are the original “GoodFellas”.
Whilst I realise the trilogy of films is a brilliant adaptation of Puzo’s work (and he has worked on each one personally with Francis Ford Coppola), I will only concentrate on the novel. I suspect there are probably far more cinema-goers out there than bookworms (a sad state of affairs, but true nevertheless!), and consequently there are probably far more reviews of the screen version (go find them if you wish!). Please note: seeing the film will in no way detract from the enjoyment of reading the book.
The story includes aspects love and betrayal; politics, war and religion; beauty, ugliness and death! It is filled with electrifying action, and there is plenty here which readers might also find somewhat disturbing. It is a story about the criminal activities of the Corleone family and their war with other the Mafia families of New York.
Puzo’s style is very easy to read and he can be compared with the likes of a number of best-selling sensationalist authors. Indeed, at base value “The Godfather” fits into this genre quite well and I suspect it could have been equally well written – although stylistically different – by Clancy, Grisham or even Archer (had he the inclination to write mafia-crime novels). However, the difference is character development and Puzo’s ability to have readers com
pletely absorbing themselves in his story.
“The Godfather” is incredibly realistic in scope, character development and storyline (despite the horrific nature of Mafioso tactics); it is easy to believe these events could have taken place, and that these people actually exist. Puzo lays it out like dust, and readers inhale it like a vacuum cleaner! And this is only possible because we empathise with Michael Corleone and his family – which, of course, is Puzo’s greatest accomplishment: because Michael is an extortionist, a blackmailer, a killer … a criminal!
The Godfather’s tactics in negotiation are reprehensible at best, and when Vito or Michael say “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse!” it is really quite chilling. It signifies the ‘offer’ involves placing a gun to the ‘addressee’s’ head and telling him either his brains or signature will be on a particular contract. Despite this and other chillingly criminal tactics, the reader learns to identify with the Corleones. Quite an unnerving and highly effective, but subtle tactic of Puzo’s – because our hero is a murderer!
In identifying and sympathising with The Family, Puzo’s has his readers in a tight and exciting grip, because the epitome of ‘coolness’ (other than the slick Hannibal Lector) is Michael Corleone, the ultimate businessman. And herein lies the problem, because Puzo markets Michael as being nothing more than an extremely efficient and successful entrepreneur with mildly questionable tactics – the other New York Mafia families are Puzo’s actual hoodlums. This does not work, especially since the activities of the Godfather and his family/associates are no better (and at times are worse) than the actions of their enemies. So, whilst some of their activities are business-related, the Corleone’s are actually nothing more than thugs!
Definitely not a thinking-persons novel, far from the realms of philosophy or thought-provoking ideologies, “The Godfather” is nevertheless a captivating read. Readers who do not enjoy sensationalist writing should avoid it, even if they do like the films; however, if you are a fan of action and crime-based stories, this should definitely be on your reading list! In its favour, is the depth of character analysis and the evolution of Michael, who is to lead The Family to their former glory. In a style which is not reminiscent of sensationalism (for example, Clancy and Grisham), Puzo gives Michael a number of character faults, and he is not the archetypical hero. This works well in seeing his character develop from a forceful, yet almost school-boyish charmer, into a leader and ruthless adversary to all who stand in his path.
In addition, it is also wonderful to see how Michael’s father Vito develops; and at the outset readers are fooled into believing he is too old to re-evaluate his chosen path (like it being impossible to teach an old dog new tricks!). However, Vito evolves and realises how the choices he has made have affected his nearest-and-dearest. This may not be heart-warming, but it adds a surprise element to the novel which would probably have been half the masterpiece it is without it!
The flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s life prior to reaching New York, and then in the US before becoming a ‘Don’, provide a much-needed background to the present-day story and the characteristics of the Don. In addition, the change of backdrop – Sicily – is much appreciated and is a world away from New York and Las Vegas, where the story is principally set.
Characters such as Johnny Fontaine, Luca Brasi and Santino (Sonny) are also swell-developed, completing the picture admirably. I understand the former (Johnny) may have been based on Franky-Blue-Eyes-Sinatra! However, the female characte
rs are often left in the sidelines and do not evolve as much as their hoodlum husbands, making “The Godfather” much more of a man’s read. Having said (written!) this, I reckon female readers do enjoy the novel as much as the fellas.
Perhaps, the only downside with “The Godfather” is the lack of appropriate landscape description. Set primarily in Long Island in the 1940s, Puzo does not unfortunately take you there. Neither does he take you to the village of Corleone in Siccily. His descriptions are such that the scenery is incidental and apparently he has no talent in this area. However, had Puzo added comprehensive scenic narratives, the novel would probably have been far too lengthy to comfortably navigate.
Even so, it remains a fascinating novel, but unfortunately for Puzo (as with several other best-selling authors) his first work has been deemed the highlight of his literary career; hence all of his subsequent work has been compared to “The Godfather” and nothing he has written has been received with similar praise.
Mario Puzo has created a veritable storm and there is no doubt “The Godfather” will continue to entertain for a long time yet. I doubt you’ll turn into a gangster, or even imagine carrying out such dastardly deeds as those described in the story, but you will identify with the Corleone family, and you will want to be just as cool – just don’t let it go to your head!