Book: The Shape of Water
Author: Guillermo Del Toro, Daniel Kraus
Summary: Based on Guillermo Del Toro’s movie of the same name, Del Toro describes The Shape of Water as “A Fairytale for Troubled Times”.
“She reaches out to him. To herself. There is no difference. She understands now. She holds him, he holds her, they hold each other, and all is dark, all is light, all is ugliness, all is beauty, all is pain, all is grief, all is never, all is forever.”
-The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro and Daniel Kraus
I try to post one of these little “not-really-a-book-review” articles each Wednesday, and I wanted to write this week’s about “The Shape of Water”, but I’d just gotten the book, and…you know…you have to actually read things to be able to write about them. So, here we are. “But wait?”, you say, “I thought The Shape of Water was the weird movie about the fish guy?”. Well, I mean, yes, but it’s also a book. And the movie just won a bunch of awards, well deserved in my opinion, so I thought it would be a good time to write about it.
Some people loved the movie, some people thought it was too weird, everybody gets their own opinion. Personally, I adore the movie and it only made sense to read the book next. I watch lots of movies based on books but I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book based on a movie. I am so glad I did though, it was a fascinating experience. So, if you don’t know, The Shape of Water is a story about a mute janitor named Elisa and a River God Water Creature Being(?), who fall in love. But it’s also about prejudice and friendship and the power of the oppressed and communication beyond speech and loneliness and compassion, and a bunch of important things. Starting the book, of course, I already knew the story. I found that, in the novel, it was basically told through in depth character studies that flowed together to make a plot.
The book begins from the point of view of the antagonist, Richard Strickland. I was not expecting this. I was expecting the first scene of the movie, where the protagonist wakes up in her apartment. Instead, I’m in Strickland’s head. If you have seen the movie then you know how terrifying he is. He is scarier in the book. Because, we are reading his inner monologue. He may be the scariest villain I have ever encountered in fiction, maybe because it’s so easy to see him existing outside of it. All of the ingredients that became this madman are readily available in our world, the perfect recipe for a Strickland. The circumstances that came together to make him what he is aren’t fantasy or destiny, he is a man filled with fear and anger, completely obsessed with controlling those around him, definitely not mentally sound, and he has been given enough power to be fatally dangerous.
The interesting nature of point of view gives the reader insights we don’t get in the movie. In the movie, Strickland’s wife and kids just appear in a few scenes as this sort of personification of the ideal of the “Perfect American Family”. In the book, we learn lots of interesting things about Lainie Strickland, yes, his wife does have a name. She is definitely more than she appears, and she is definitely not blind to the madness that has taken hold of her husband. We also get inside the head of the creature. This was what I had most hoped for when I picked up the book. Please, please I want to know how he thinks, just give me a chapter from his point of view, come onnnn! I was out when I got to his first chapter and literally said “YESSSSS!!!!”, drawing attention to myself, no doubt, but who cares because all of my wishes had just been granted. He only gets three chapters, two in Elisa’s home and one underwater, as the very last chapter. The way he describes things is so interesting, but makes so much sense because of course the artificiality of the city would be so foreign to him. The calls lights “fake suns”, and sketches of himself “small twins”. He speaks in plurals “We wait we watch we listen”, without punctuation, all thoughts running together. It is fascinating to read. This creature understands that he is at one with all things. He says, “there is no you there is no me there is only we we we we we” It is interesting as well, because he goes by so many names, it kind of makes sense that he thinks in plurals. All the characters give him different titles, “The Asset”, “The Devonian”, “Deus Brânquia”, “The Creature”. An experiment, a loved one, a fascinating and beautiful creature, a portrait model, a god, a nemesis. He is many things at once.
I could go on and on with character analysis on these people, Eliza and her shoes, Giles and the significance of his skull and toupee (which I am probably reading too far in to, don’t mind me). But, I’m not here to rewrite the story. Just to say, reading this after falling in love with the movie was so great. Suddenly I have all this super-secret information on these characters. I love them, most of them, even more than I already did. And now that I know all this, I want to see the movie again.