Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon was originally published in 1959. My paperback copy has 324 pages, including the introduction by Louis Menand. Almost everyone has watched at least one of the two films made of Condon's book. In the plot, American soldiers are captured, brainwashed, and programmed by their Chinese captors. One of them is programmed to become a political assassin. In the introduction Lois Menand says, "The Manchurian Candidate may be pulp, but it is very tony pulp. It is a man in a tartan tuxedo, chicken a la king with shaved truffles, a signed Leroy Neiman. It's Mickey Spillane with an MFA, and a kind of summa of the styles of paperback fiction circa 1959." (pg. viii). Although the book shows it's age in some ways, it is surprising how well it stands the test of time. This is one case where the film, and I'm thinking of the 1962 version, actually does an excellent job of representing the content of this psychological thriller. This theme of brainwashing is as pertinent today as it was during the cold war. highly recommended

Everyone knows the controversial 1962 film of The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, even though it was taken out of circulation for twenty-five years after JFK's assassination. Equally controversial on publication, and just as timely today, is Richard Condon's original novel. First published in 1959, at the height of cold war paranoia, The Manchurian Candidate is a terrifying and suspenseful political thriller featuring Sergeant Raymond Shaw, ex-prisoner of war, Medal of Honor winner, American hero... and brainwashed assassin. Condon’s expert manipulation of the book’s multiple themes – from anticommunist hysteria to megalomaniacal motherhood – makes this one of the most entertaining, and enduring, books of the era.

Louis Menand: "Some people like their bananas overripe to the point of blackness. The Manchurian Candidate is an overripe banana, and delectable to those who have a taste for it." pg. x

"It was sunny in San Francisco; a fabulous condition. Raymond Shaw was not unaware of the beauty outside the hotel window, across from a mansion on the top of a hill, but he clutched the telephone like an osculatorium and did not allow himself to think about what lay beyond that instant: in a saloon someplace, in a different bed, or anywhere." Opening

"Well, it just so happens that you're a Medal of Honor winner - incidentally, congratulations - I meant to write but we've been jammed up. Johnny is a public figure, Raymond." pg. 15

"His mind began to spin off the fine silk thread of his resentment in furious moulinage. For almost two years he had been free of his obsessed mother, this brassy bugler, this puss-in-boots to her boorish Marquis de Carrabas, the woman who could think but who could not feel." pg. 17

"It took that kind of objectivity to begin to tolerate Raymond, who was full of haughtiness. Raymond stood as though someone might have just opened a beach umbrella in his bowels. His very glance drawled when he deigned to look, seldom deigning to speak." pg. 26

"Conditioning is based upon associative reflexes that use words or symbols as triggers of installed automatic reactions. Conditioning, called brainwashing by the news agencies, is the production of reactions in the human organism through the use of associative reflexes." pg.32

"Although the paranoiacs make the great leaders, it is the resenters who make their best instruments because the resenters, those men with cancer of the psyche, make the great assassins." pg. 43

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