Don’t Go in the Water Wednesday: Jaws

Posted 18 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Don’t Go in the Water Wednesday: JawsJaws by Peter Benchley
Published by Random House Publishing Group on July 31st 2012
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, Psychological, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 288

Here is Peter Benchley’s classic suspense novel of shark versus man, which was made into the blockbuster Steven Spielberg movie. The Jaws phenomenon changed popular culture and continues to inspire a growing interest in sharks and the oceans today.  When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws in the early 1970s, he meticulously researched all available data about shark behavior. Over the ensuing decades, Benchley was actively engaged with scientists and filmmakers on expeditions around the world as they expanded their knowledge of sharks. Also during this time, there was an unprecedented upswing in the number of sharks killed to make shark-fin soup, and Benchley worked with governments and nonprofits to sound the alarm for shark conservation. He encouraged each new generation of Jaws fans to enjoy his riveting tale and to channel their excitement into support and protection of these magnificent, prehistoric apex predators.  This edition of Jaws contains bonus content from Peter Benchley’s archives, including the original typed title page, a brainstorming list of possible titles, a letter from Benchley to producer David Brown with honest feedback on the movie adaptation, and excerpts from Benchley’s book Shark Trouble highlighting his firsthand account of writing Jaws, selling it to Universal Studios, and working with Steven Spielberg.

I’m going the make the assumption that everyone over the age of sixteen has seen the classic Steven Spielberg film by the same name. If you haven’t – go watch it. The book is largely pulp but there’s no mistaking that there are some exceptionally written passages in it.

Since this was my first reading of Jaws and I’ve seen the movie so many times I had the problem of seeing Roy Schneider in the tile role of Chief Brody, a young Richard Dreyfuss as the incorrigible and slightly annoying Matt Hooper, and Robert Shaw as the gruff, salty fisherman Quint. I suspect that others may run into this problem, but it wasn’t overly distracting as I think Spielberg’s casting was solid.

Something else that the reader needs to keep in mind when reading this novel is that it was first published in 1973. There was little understanding of shark behavior in the ’70’s and there were few ocean conservation programs as we know them today and absolutely no shark conservation programs. Little was understood about sharks until much more recently, so Benchley (who later was a large influence and advocate for shark conservation) wrote about sharks the way that they were perceived at the time. Mindless eating machines.

In the forward to the 2005 edition, which Benchley wrote about a year before he died, he explains that he never would have published Jaws today because of the negative and inaccurate light that it casts upon sharks. But he’s also correct in asserting that both the book and the movie did encourage at least two generations of students to explore marine biology and look what we have today! Shark Week!

Anyway, the book itself, like I said is dated. That goes for female roles as well. There’s a scene where Ellen Brody (the Chief’s wife) is asked about some of her sexual fantasies and she responds with giggles and something like, “I don’t know, rape?” was definitely a cringe inducing moment. The book has more plot than the movie and includes elements of “romance” (for lack of a better word) and the mafia.

While reading the book I had pretty much made up my mind to give it a three star rating until I got to the final scene of the novel. I don’t particularly care for ‘action’ novels so when I was reading about Chief Brody’s final showdown with the Great White I was surprised to find my heart beating rapidly and my adrenaline surging. This scene was so well written that I felt the need to bump the whole book up a star.

A definite read for all fans of the movie. Suggested read for fans of shark week and all others.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

1 Comment/ : , , ,

  • Nishita

    oh wow! I’m a huge fan of the movie and have seen it umpteen times. I think I may have read the book during my school years too, but don’t remember anything about the book now. May have to reread.