Reviewing: Jaws by Peter Benchley

Jaws is one of the best movies ever, it’s just fact. So when my fiancée started reading the book that inspired the film, I jumped up to be next in line for her copy of it. As always, with book-to-film adaptations, the film is different from the book in quite a few instances. It makes a few of the characters more likeable, chops out a few more and uses its Hollywood magic to transfer hundreds of pages of book into a few hours at most. Often, with the film adaptations of books, I see book and film more as two separate entities as opposed to versions of the same thing – each has their own merits, their own flaws, and often it’s difficult to hold one up and go ‘this one is definitely better in every way’.

Except Eragon, I think we can all agree which is better there. But I digress.

This book is not for those who aren’t fans of reading a bit of gore. It’s hardly Saw, but the plot DOES revolve around a shark that eats people, and it jumps right in there with the people-eating, so consider yourself warned. The ‘fish’ as it is often referred to, is curiously both a main character and a side-plot. Amity is torn apart by the threat of being literally eaten if they go for a swim, but the shark features rarely – popping up now and then to eat lunch before disappearing just beyond the shallows – and the book for the main part circles around a small group of characters and their dealings with each other during this time. Smack-bang in the middle of all of it is Chief Martin Brody.

Poor Chief Brody. Seriously, the poor guy cannot catch a break. Or a shark.

As the Chief of Police for a small seaside town that is both reliant on tourism and plagued by a very large, hungry shark, Brody just wants a quiet life with his family. Instead he’s finding bodies here there and everywhere and trying to do the smart thing and close the damn beaches while being constantly told by rich, stupid people that he can’t. He’s competent, and thus in traditional horror fashion his suggestions are almost entirely ignored until the body count grows too high to hide from the press. I like Brody, he’s a good focal-point for the utter pandemonium of the town and while he has his flaws he is at least aware of them. He’s not perfect, and I think that’s what makes him likeable. Alongside Brody, we have characters such as his wife, the local reporter, the town mayor and Shark-expert Hooper. I loved Hooper in the movie, I did not love Hooper in the book. The guy is a dick.

Written in the 70s, there are aspects of the book’s language that are dated to say the least – primarily to do with people of colour or gay people. Now, this is infrequent and in a book published forty years ago is perhaps to be expected, if not excused. There is also mention made of a string of sexual assaults that occurred in the town’s not-too-distant past. This, I feel, is primarily to show how the politics of Amity – this small town so reliant on the tourist trade – can lead to the altering of certain reports and truths to serve a broader purpose. These crimes are downgraded in the local press for fear of scaring away visitors, just as the shark attacks are largely kept silent until they become too apparent to hide. I mention these things in case you as a reader are sensitive to them, not to put you off reading the book entirely. It is still, despite these instances, a very enjoyable book and one I would recommend.

Jaws covered a wide variety of topics for a book which I thought would just be about a shark. There’s issues regarding wealth, drugs, gangs and blackmail – and I’m pretty sure someone calls a mob hit on a cat (fair warning for that, the cat is not okay). Despite all of this, the book doesn’t feel over-crowded. I did feel that the plot line surrounding Brody’s wife was perhaps a little surplus to requirements, but then I’m more inclined to want to read about shark attacks than the troubles of a formerly-wealthy housewife.

The pacing of the story is excellent, and I found myself finishing it in about two days. The shark is used excellently to ramp up tension and re-centre the characters whenever their own personal storylines distract them from the literal man-eating-shark on their doorstep (or shoreline). Upon introduction, the famous fish is described in almost entirely scientific language, and its motivations are never more than to eat. There is no evil, no malice in its thoughts – despite the intelligence Brody thinks he sees in its glassy black eyes. The people in this book, the people of Amity, are the ones acting out of malice and greed and self-importance – not the shark. I’d highly recommend this to fans of the movie, fans of sharks or just to someone looking to pass the time with a good book.

Just be prepared to be wary of the water next time you go to the beach.

Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖 4 books out of 5

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