I kept asking myself “where is this book going?” But it’s such a page turner!
For the past 4 years, I’ve been experiencing Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ vicariously through the NFL Podcaster Marc Sessler. More than just talking about football, the boys from ‘Around the NFL’ also share what popular culture they’re obsessing over, and Marc had been first obsessing over the film, and then gushed about Tarantino’s first foray into writing a novel. So, finding ourselves with too many Audible credits, I spent one of our credits on the ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ audiobook, but I never got around to listening to it until I noticed that Netflix was now streaming the 2019 film.
The interesting thing is this, I started to consume the book knowing some things, while not knowing a whole lot. For example, I knew the film starred Leonardo and Brad, and I’d heard enough True Crime podcasts over the years to be familiar with all the notable American mass murderers, so I recognised the name Charles Manson. However, I started the book not knowing how their stories might converge or how the movie might unfold either.
And at the get go, within the first 20 minutes of the book, you just know it’s a product of Tarantino’s work. As the dialogue and the mundane nature of the conversations between characters were so pointless, yet so riveting and humorous. Just think back to the Royale with Cheese scene from Pulp Fiction, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. And much, I mean much of the book is like this, mundane conversations, seemingly irrelevant backstories and flashbacks, which leave you thinking “What’s going on?” “This seems all so pointless!” But tell you what, it got me binging this thing, I was listening to it when brushing my teeth, I tore through 2 hours while cleaning the apartment, I was listening to it before bed, and I was literally carrying my phone around listening to it through the tinny phone speakers- as I wanted to get through the book so badly, wanting to know why! Why, would someone write an almost 13-hour long audiobook? What story was he trying to tell here!?
And with only 20 minutes remaining in the book, I had to admit to my wife “I still don’t know where this book is going!” And when it ended, I was just left thinking. “What just happened!?” I’d binged this 12 hrs 42 min audiobook over 4 days, and absolutely nothing happened! Like nothing happened! The book literally documented the lives of a handful of characters across a span of a day and a half in late 60s LA. What was the point and purpose?
Then I forced my wife to watch the film with me, now that I had read the book, I wanted to see for myself why Marc Sessler was so drawn to the film- that he had to re-watch the film in cinema more than once! Like whom does that these days? And throughout the film I was going to my wife, “Yep, that was in the book, and yes, so was that scene, and yes, so was that.” But when it came to the final minutes of the film, I was shocked! I was left saying “That was not in the book!” And after watching the film, now I know why the film had received so much attention at the time. As my wife put it aptly, “Now that’s a typical Tarantino scene.” Referring to the attempted massacre by the Manson Family. Which then led my wife to pull an all-nighter, reading all she could about the Tate murders, the film, and the novel. And I’m here to say, although people thought the film was pointless, and I must admit the book was seemingly pointless as well. But both the book and the film exhibited Tarantino’s brilliance. Yes, the man’s brilliance!
As what Tarantino had done to us, was that he fooled us! He fooled all of us! And he refers to this manipulative power in the actual novel when he describes how Roman Polanski achieved the same affect in his film, when he made a room full of cinema goers to all lean to their left, in a vain attempt to see around the edge of a door frame. And that my friends, is what Tarantino did to us!
That is what he did to us first in the film, the Tate Murders were well known enough in the States (although not by us), that I’d say 99% of cinema goers thought they knew exactly how the film was going to end- as the timer ticked down on 8-9 August 1969. But Tarantino flipped the seemingly ‘true story’ on its head when the Manson Family hit the neighbouring home instead. Wow! Mind blown!
And for those who had watched the film, and then proceeded to read his novel. Tarantino did it to them again! As the book followed the film 99% of the way, it just seemed like a movie book, one of those novels which re-tells a motion picture in text- along with colour pics from the film which inevitably appear in the centre pages of the paperback book. But instead of just re-telling the same movie storyline, Tarantino flips the script again! I’m sure 99% of those who reached the final 20 minutes of the audiobook, they too thought they knew how the book was going to end. End in a rapid gush of guts and gore! But nooooo! Tarantino ends the novel with a freakin happy ending. Leaving me utterly confused. And then in complete denial when watching the film for the first time, leaving me in a state of shock, going “No, no, no!” This is not how the novel ends!
So, no matter what order you consume Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, either the film first and then the novel or vice versa, he’ll leave you utterly mind blown! Bravo Quentin, bravo!
So, if you’d like to listen to the novel for yourself, which spends more time fleshing-out parts of the story which were breezed over in the film, check it out! Just click HERE to start listening to ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’!