As I was checking it out at the library, a woman behind me was surprised that I was reading Ship of Fools; she was an older patron clutching a DVD copy of the film adapted from the book itself. “It’s the rare case of the movie being better than the book,” she crowed smugly. And so I got delight reading each page and disputing this specious claim, mentally shaking my fist and saying, “You’re wrong, old lady!”
Katherine Ann Porter’s magnum opus was years in the making, having dashed off a smaller version of it between 1940-1 and finally producing the finished 500 pages in 1962. A cast of characters that no one could love, and yet you enjoy peering at life from their particular porthole, section after section. Germans returning from Mexico to their homeland, an American artist couple squabbling, devious zarzuela dancing crew whose children thieve and throw things overboard, a group of Cuban students, an imprisoned Contessa and the doctor who gives her drugs to sleep. The book is relentless, wave after wave of text coming at you and only broken up into three sections corresponding to getting on the boat, being at sea, and sailing into port. Dazzling writing, and there’s no way the movie could hold a candle to the layers of complexity, nuance, and sting of the book itself.