White Palace: a review of Glen Savan’s book

We all—well, most of us anyway—have heard of the movie White Palace, many of us have seen it.  I reviewed it a few weeks ago here. While watching the movie, I noticed it was based on a book of the same name by Glenn Savan from 1987 and after scouring Amazon and waiting the 3 – 5 business days, it arrived.

When I held it first, the cover is what struck me: it was everything people used to sneeringly mean when they said something like “he walked into the church, dirty jeans, soiled work shirt, his long hair oily and dull, hanging over his collar; he smelled of the previous nights bar—stale smoke and cheap whisky—and in the back pocket of his jeans was a rolled up paperback. The cover is a lurid depiction of Nora, and I was uncomfortable with it being seen by the world while I read the story.  I wanted to cover it with a sheet of paper.

And maybe this is the biggest difference between the book and the movie.  The Nora of the book is not anything most would find attractive, especially not someone with the looks and social standing of a Max: heavy in the middle and below the waist, large thighs, no chest, vulgar, a very heavy drinker and very foul-mouthed. The movie version is Susan Sarandon, and while Sarandon’s character is 42 (to Max’s 27), and while she is poor and works in a hamburger joint, she is anything but unattractive and the character she plays is more civilized and more likeable, more worth our compassion. And I think in changing this character’s appearance and personality do much, the movie lost much of what the book was about.

 I am a terribly slow reader, and usually cannot get through 10 or 15 pages at a time; I devoured the last 100 -plus.

The movie mostly follows the book, but the book, especially the ending is much deeper and fulfilling. The movie ending reminds us of An Officer and a Gentleman, and it works, but the last 50 pages of the book are much more real.

Good book, I am green with envy.

Two quotes from the book:

Early on in the affair, when Max is getting sucked in:

Max took to his work as a penitent monk takes to his cell. In the outer world, where Nora held sway, all was madness, chaos and unshackled instinct—a regular thirteenth-century plague-ridden Europe, steeped in darkness an doming apart at the seams, where gangs of flagellants whipped themselves into pieces, rabid dogs roamed the streets in packs, heretics burned at the stake, lunatics wore the crown, and the unwashed drunken populace conducted its orgies on the palace stairs, in the public fountains, and on the altars of the great cathedrals.


Later, near the end, Max says:

It seems to me there are certain things you don’t have the right to forgive yourself for.

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