Vertigo (Boileau-Nacejac)

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Read 08/11/2015-10/11/2015

Rating: 5 stars

Read for week 4 of The Reader’s Room Halloween challenge.

I was intrigued to read the book which became a Hitchcock film. Especially because I read that Boileau and Nacejac wrote it with Hitchcock in mind, after he failed to secure the rights to their first novel. I like the film. The book is just different enough to make it better than the film. The setting of Paris at the start of WW2 adds to the melancholy of the anti-hero Flavières. I think his status as a young enough man not at war is more important than his titular vertigo. The second part of the book is significantly different, and more satisfying, than the film. The story is exquisitely turned, the characters sighingly believable.

A bit of context:

Week 4 of the Reader’s Room Halloween challenge was personal phobias. I have few true phobias. I have an intense dislike of moths because when I was a small child, not only did my sister (11 years older) have a dead moth that she kept in a match box and would show me in a creepy way, but my brother (6.5 years older) bought a toy from a joke shop in Manchester that was an envelope that contained a piece of paper folded to resemble wings, fastened to a piece of balsa wood by an elastic band that could be wound up, so that she you opened the envelope a ‘moth’ appeared to fly out and flutter into your face. It terrified me. The dead moth held a horrible fascination because it’s body was so fat and hairy. Who’d be the youngest sibling of older children, eh?

However, over the years I have trained myself not to hyperventilate when I encounter a moth, although I did once leave my bedroom curtains closed for a week because a moth I came to refer to as Moth The Behemoth came in through the open window one night and I couldn’t go near it because it was so big (wing span probably as wide as my middle finger is long, oh the irony that I couldn’t bring myself to flip it the bird).

My amygdala has a lot to answer for (although Joseph LeDoux says I shouldn’t be so hasty to accept his interpretation of the amygdala’s function as a finding). And my brother. Still, I can rationalise this one and tell myself (most of the time) not to be so ridiculous, a moth can’t beat me to death with its wings or smother me with its tiny, hairy body.

My one true phobia is heights. I am famous (because I keep telling people) for having stood on the wide, solid plateau at the top of Mount Snowdon, far from the edge, with legs like jelly because I was convinced I’d fall off. If I walk on a pier, I can’t go near the edge because I think I’ll be freakishly pulled into the sea. I have to cross really high footbridges really quickly in case its solid form randomly collapses beneath me, plunging me to my death.

I don’t know what happened to me when I was too tiny to remember, but something has imprinted on my amygdala that won’t shift.

It makes my legs go to jelly when my husband is playing a video game that involves his character teetering precariously on a precipice (see: Dark Souls; Skyrim; Metal Gear Solid). It does the same if someone on a wildlife or adventure travel documentary goes too near a high edge. I had to close my eyes at the start of the film Wild. Last night I caught a moment of a film in which Jeremy Irons snatches a woman from the edge of a bridge before she can jump, and my legs went. Even though I love castles and want to go up turrets and towers, I’m never happy when I get to the top.

So for all those reasons I read Vertigo for the challenge. Fortunately, the descriptions of Flavières’ vertigo aren’t very detailed. And for all that I’m a visual reader, my brain must prevent me from visualising heights in books, because I don’t recall ever having the same reaction to someone teetering on a precipice in a book as I do in a film or real life.

You’ve had a little insight into the World of Jan, there. You’re welcome!

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