The Manchurian Candidate
, described as a ‘political thriller,’ is much more…so much more. Had it not been for Dusty’s review (above), I wouldn’t have expected the tremendous humor to be encountered within the pages of Condon’s almost prophetic novel. Dusty suggests, “If Kurt Vonnegut had written a political thriller it would have read a lot like this. “ I’m still pondering that, but I have no problem considering MC as if it were written by LeCarre or Ludlum, then edited by a heavy-handed, though lighter-hearted Vonnegut. The novel swings from the simply funny to the bitterest sarcasm. Condon’s character loyalty might put a reader in mind of Cormac McCarthy.
In the preface to the edition I read (the Mysterious Book Club edition with a preface by David Willis McCullough [not to be confused with David McCullough, historian), DWM suggests that when thinking of the Raymond Shaw’s mother (Shaw is the novel’s protagonist), “try to imagine Hamlet’s Gertrude as played by Lady Macbeth.” Reference to Hamlet
is worth keeping in mind while reading MC. Where Hamlet is unable to act, Shaw is unable to NOT act. Johnny Iselin, Shaw’s stepfather compares nicely to Claudius. Shaw’s mother is, indeed, one of the most evil literary characters I know of: her reverse-Oedipal relationship with Shaw is staggering and, eventually, very reminiscent of Hamlet’s relationship with Gertrude in her bedroom, while her machinations are definitely those of Lady Macbeth. The final scenes of the masquerade party with its aftermath and the convention combine for a finale to rival Hamlet’s dueling competition with Laertes. Compare/contrast opportunities between MC and Hamlet
are worthy of a college term paper. Throw in a Lacanian interpretation of Eleanor Shaw (the mother) and you would have the makings of a Master’s thesis. What fun!
The novel contains numerous historical references that younger readers might not recognize. The Joe McCarthy/anti-communist sentiment of the fifties may not be so obscure.
The story flies by at times, especially toward the end, while at other times the narrative style can creep at a snail’s pace (long, complicated sentences, obscure words, idiolect, etc.). Should the narrative style prove daunting, just remember that it is reflective of the complicated plotting the author employs. Ride it out for a big payoff and a lot of fun. This is one that might haunt you.