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  • Writer's picturePaul Jameson

The 39 Steps - Book Review

The 39 Steps.

Surely we all know this one. I loved the movie (the one with Robert Powell) and I've never read the book. So here I am in the library, and in among the classics I see it. A chance to improve my literary kudos.

I was excited.

I couldn't wait to read it.

And never have I felt so let down.

It's a testament to Hitchcock, and others of the silver screen, that by moving it onto the big screen they made what is a classic out of a turd. Because, Buchan's writing is awful. I've since read many other reviews as express a similar sentiment - that 'The 39 Steps' is not a classic because of its writing, but because of the silver screen and it being the first of its genre as it did open the doors to the spy novel, but I disagree. I believe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty had all the hallmarks of a good spy and thriller read, long before Buchan ever put pen to paper.

Buchan though, is no Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The latter was a brilliant storyteller, wordsmith, and weaver of intricacy so as to carry readers excited along. None of this can be said of Buchan. His writing is childlike, horribly so, and I was reminded by his writing of a boy in a sweetshop with too many E-numbers inside. There was no pause for breath, no clever threading, just the blurting out of a stream of words. So often I wanted him to pause, to breathe, to let the reader and his characters have some time. No such doing. E-numbers kept doing their thing.

Nothing could stop the pain this man inflicted.

Indeed, I was honestly shocked to discover that not only is the writing awful, but so too is the heart of the story. It's awful. Rubbish that is full of impossible coincidence. And a hero from Africa who, quite honestly, I found myself wishing had been eaten by a lion long before he ever got to England; at least in that way I might have been spared this torture. If this were written now it would be slated, destined to forever drown in the shallows and be consigned with the author to a jar of jelly tots in the corner.

And then I remembered the film.

How much I loved it. Thank you.

Alfred! Hitchcock resurrected life and worked miracles on this piece. A genius, he saw the possibility. With camera he put flesh and substance on the bonelike ramblings of a schoolboy. Hitchcock, in my opinion, created a masterpiece of film from out of scribble.

Again, thank you Alfred.


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