Most big-screen book adaptations are vastly inferior to their source material. But when Hitchcock is the director, it's not surprising that the opposite is true. Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac's psychological thriller (first published in the UK in 1956 as "The Living and the Dead") varies only slightly from the 1958 movie version, except that the location is France during the Second World War, rather than post-war San Francisco. Most of the film set-pieces derive almost unchanged from the novel, although the ending is significantly altered.
The novel is divided into two parts, with a gap between of several years. This is more realistic than the time-frame of the film, but the second half suffers from a lack of narrative drive, as the central character discovers what he thinks is a reincarnation of his lost love and gradually transforms her into this 'perfect' woman. While slow in the film, this is positively tortuous on the printed page.
The prose of "Vertigo" is refreshingly straightforward, the story clever (perhaps a little too clever), and the dialogue believable. If you're a cinephile, and a huge fan of Hitchcock, then this makes for rewarding reading. If not, then just watch the movie version - it's more entertaining.
Mark Campbell (Freelance Writer)