William Goldman is a brilliant writer, famed for his screenplays (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride.) This novel, The Princess Bride, too is brilliant, in its own way, which is a quirky way, but it appealed to me.
The narrative structure is delightful, especially for those of us who are interested in narrative structure. The very title warns the reader that something is up: The Princess Bride: S Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The "Good Parts Version: Abridged by William Golden. Now we know that the book is not an adaptation or abridgement of a book by somebody else but rather written by William Golden himself. What's up?
A framing story is up and it's complicated and a bit of a shaggy dog story. Purportedly, when the boy was 10 and had pneumonia, Goldman's father read the Morgenstern book to him, leaving out a lot. Much later in his life Goldman acquires the book (in English - it is purportedly originally written in Florian - which is a mythical language) and gives it to his own 10-year-old, who hates it. When the adult Goldman looks at the text he realizes it badly needs editing.
This is the basic story, but as he works on the book and contracts to write a screen play he discovers there are complicated issues with the Morgenstern estate which has already asked Stephen King to write the screenplay and to edit the second book, which, mind you doesn't exist, nor does the Morgenstern estate or the author Morgenstern himself. Goldman's comments about the book and the purported abridgement are heavily larded through the story to great comic effect.
There's a lot more of this, in fact about a third of the book is taken up with it (the book is about 500 pages long.) I love it all. Alas many do not.
Now to the story. Westley, the Farm Boy, falls in love with the proud but beautiful farmer's daughter Buttercup. She is noticed by the evil Count Rugen and recommended to equally evil Prince Humperdinck as his bride. She is taken off to the castle for three years of princess lessons while Westley runs away, heartbroken that he cannot have his beloved.
Three years later and Humperdinck is ready to marry Buttercup when three men kidnap her: the criminal mastermind, Vizzini; the incomparable swordsman, Inigo; and the giant, Fezzik. When all seems lost up pops a masked man to attempt to save her (who is actually the Dread Pirate Robert's valet.)
It gets a lot more complicated than that. And for me remains funny and romantic, satiric and adventurous. I read it because my book club chose it last month and I'm delighted as I wouldn't have read it on my own and I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.