jaws novel peter benchley first edition
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Characters: 6/10

Fun summer read

Benchley creates kind of unlikeable characters, weird tonal switch for the last part of the novel

Novel Info

Novel Name:  Jaws

Publisher:  Doubleday

Writer:  Peter Benchley

Release Date:  February 1973

jaws author peter benchley

Peter Benchley

A girl goes for a midnight swim and is killed by a great white shark off the coast of the tourist town of Amity.  The Chief of Police Marcus Brody argues to shut the beaches down, but finds resistance from the town leaders who realize the town survives on the tourist building.  When the deaths continue, action must be taken.  A shark expert called Hooper is called in to help deal with the problem, but Brody’s bored younger wife shows interest in the young man.  In a last ditch effort, Brody, Hooper, and a shark hunter name Quint set out to end the menace of the shark once and for all.

Written by Peter Benchley, Jaws was released in February 1973 with positive reviews and became a best-seller.  The movie was famously adapted by Steven Spielberg in 1975 and caused another surge for the book.

Benchley based Jaws on a number of historical shark attacks and the idea of a man-eating shark.  After the release of Jaws, sharks took a big hit and were often vilified.  The book of a shark who seems to have a will of its own and defies all “fish logic” (the characters even wonder if it is an act of God) paints the species as something out of eat and kill.  Benchley had a turn of heart after writing Jaws, and due to some of the reaction even became an ocean conservationist and told National Geographic before his death that he couldn’t have written Jaws in later years because he didn’t like how he portrayed the shark.

jaws-novel-cover-2The biggest difference between the novel and the movie has to be the expanded role of Ellen Brody.  In the novel, the characters of Marcus, Hooper, and Ellen are much more unlikeable.  Marcus is more controlling and self-conscious and this pushes Ellen into an affair with Matt Hooper.  This paints both Ellen (as a bored housewife) and Hooper (as a guy knowingly cheating on Marcus behind his back) as not very good people.  The storyline distracts the story and bogs it down.  Thankfully it was left out of the film and the idea that the Brodys were a solid family helped sell the story…a side result of the affair probably is why in the novel, Hooper doesn’t survive his trip into the shark cage.

There is an obvious Moby Dick theme running in the last part of the book with Quint being the Ahab character.  I always feel both the movie and the book take such a big change of pace at this point.  The story’s ending isn’t as dramatic as the ending of the film with the blowing up of the oxygen tank, but a bit more realistic with the shark slowly succumbing to the injuries it has sustained.  Quint meets a very Ahab fate by being pulled into the water and sinking into the depths with the shark.

With the recently release of Jaws on Blu-Ray, I thought it would be fun to reread Jaws.  It had been a number of years, but the story holds-up as a fun summer read.  Don’t expect a masterpiece but it is a quick read.  If you do read it, I recommend reading on the beach…It helps amplify the horror and adds to the story.

Related Links:

Jaws (1975)

Beast by Peter Benchley

White Shark by Peter Benchley

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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