Same story, two perspectives

The normal order of things is to read the book first and then see the movie adaptation. With The Secret in Their Eyes, I reversed that order. And I’m glad I did.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the film version of this story. To me, it’s a brilliant movie, almost perfectly realized. Based on how good it was, I decided to buy the book from which it was adapted. It is easily one of the best books I’ve read in the past five years.

Set in Buenos Aires in a time period ranging from the late 1960s to the early 90s, it reads like gritty noir combined with a story about unrequited love. There’s murder and revenge. Unspoken and unspeakable words. Questions being asked silently, with the eyes.  In fact, the literal translation of the Spanish title is The Questions in Their Eyes.

At its simplest, the novel and film tell the story of a court clerk, just retired, who has decided to write a book about a rape/murder case from the past that has lived with him and haunted him for more than twenty years. The film uses flashbacks to jump back and forth between past and present. The novel switches between third person voice for the present, to first person when we’re taken back to the past in the form of the protagonist’s manuscript.

But the similarities end there. In almost every other regard, the novel and film are very different. The main character in the book is Benjamín Chaparro. In the movie, he’s Benjamín Esposito. Sandoval, the brilliant but troubled alcoholic in the book is transposed into a kind of comedic foil (still alcoholic) in the movie. The investigating detective (Baez) is fairly insignificant in the movie, but plays a major role in the novel.  Even the long standing romantic tension between Benjamín and Irene, his superior in the court, feels very different.

One of my favourite scenes in the movie takes place in a fútbol stadium in the midst of a game between Buenos Aires rival teams Huracán and Racing Club. It is here that the rapist/murderer is found and caught. It’s an intense, edge-of-your-seat sequence.  In the book, nothing like this takes place. The Racing Club team is only mentioned in passing in the chapter where the fugitive is caught thanks to a scuffle with a railway conductor.

I’d be annoyed by all these differences were it not for the fact that both movie and book are beautiful. And, had I read the book first and then watched the adaptation, I think I might have dismissed the movie. The differences are jarring at times, but the quality of the storytelling in both cases renders those changes almost irrelevant. Both tell essentially the same story, but from completely different perspectives.

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