Apr 12, 2012
Book Review: Vertigo Retold by Its Heroine
The Testament of Judith Barton
Wendy Powers and Robin McLeod
I felt like the embattled heroine of The Testament of Judith Barton when I started reading this book. I meant to read a few pages, but then it sucked me in, and my only escape was to see it through to the end.
There are few movie characters I’ve felt more empathy for than Judy Barton in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). The poor woman comes to San Francisco alone, ready to begin her life, and it’s as if the men of the town are waiting to destroy her, grabbing at her like the animated trees in The Wizard of Oz.
First, she’s seduced and abandoned by a wealthy man, though it is never made clear whether it is money, passion or both that drove her to him. Then, when she thinks she’s met a decent fellow, he not only won’t acknowledge her identity, but totally strips it away from her until he recovers the apparition that obsesses him.
The Testament of Judith Barton tells the story of this young woman from Salina, Kansas. It takes her from childhood to the conclusion of the film in a rich, troubling and engrossing tale.
Due to a remarkable dispensation by the Hitchcock estate to use quotes from Vertigo in the book, the voice of the film haunts the story, but it somehow does not overtake it. I think this is primarily because the authors set up their own world before diving into the elements that are more familiar to fans of Hitchcock’s film.
I thought I would be impatient with the early scenes in Judy’s life. After all, I was interested in the book because I wanted to see Vertigo through her eyes, not necessarily the rest of her life. As her story developed, I found that I liked that background story as much, if not more than the San Francisco narrative connected to the movie.
Judy is portrayed as a straightforward small town girl. She’s a tomboy, who loves her jeweler father and spending time outdoors. Though she’s the opposite of her more feminine sister, they have a close relationship and her mother is supportive and loving.
It was interesting to get to know the young Judy, and the people she knew in her early life. She’s an admirable, tough character. The girl has a bit of edge, but not so much that it obscures her decency. I relished her interactions with family and friends, and the details about gemstones and jewelry that unfolded as she learned her father’s trade.
Once Judy began her life in San Francisco, I became more critical, even skeptical of the direction the story was taking. Little details irked me, mostly when I thought that the Judy I knew in the movie would not behave a certain way. I wish I would have just trusted the authors, because they make it work.
Vertigo itself is not a very plausible story; this novel cannot be expected to be either, but in so many ways it is. I believed Judy could have been the way she is portrayed, and I felt for her as if she was a real person. Even knowing her fate, I kept hoping that something would change, and that was entirely due to the hold this riveting tale had on me.
Thank you to Wendy Powers for providing a copy of this book for review.
Purchase information here.