“The thing about exploring is that you have to know whether the thing you’ve found is worth finding. Some things are just sitting there, minding their own business, waiting to be discovered.”
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is a historical Holocaust novel written by John Boyne, which was first published in 2006. Seen through the eyes of two eight-year-old boys – the son of a Nazi commandant, Bruno, and a Jewish inmate, Shmuel – the novel tells the story of growing up during World War 2. When Bruno’s family have to move to Auschwitz just outside of the extermination camps where his father is a high-ranking SS officer, Bruno and Shmuel form a secret friendship, as we see another side to the typical war story.
Directed by Mark Herman, a film adaptation of the novel was then released in 2008 and when I was told how moving the storyline was, I just had to see it. I absolutely loved Herman’s on-screen adaptation, the main reason being that it had an original storyline that is rarely expressed in stories of war. Because of this, I decided to read the book. Expecting to be moved even more so by Boyne’s original work, for the very first time I found myself preferring the film.
For me, there is one main reason for my dislike towards the book and that is in its ending. Seeing the film before reading the novel, I found its final scene to be the most dominating and it was a big reason for my admiration towards the film. I thought that the emotion portrayed through the characters in the film would have been due to Boyne’s writing, but how wrong I was.
To give a basic synopsis (please be warned it does contain hints to spoilers), the last scene follows Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) as Bruno, wearing the Jewish inmates pyjamas as a disguise, sneaks into the extermination camp to help find Shmuel’s father. The film goes on to show the boys being forced around the camp as Bruno’s family are frantically trying to find him in the rain and then, finding his clothes outside of the camp and realising what has happened, the film ends as his mother (Vera Farmiga) and father (David Thewlis) stand cursing to the sky. The book, however, manages to capture this scene in two or three pages, telling the story as if the boys vanished into thin air and as if Bruno’s family can’t quite understand why.
With the film giving much more detail than the very brief and largely emotionless couple of pages from the book, the film gives a better emphasis and therefore a bigger impact on this part of the story, and for that reason the book just wasn’t as enjoyable.
But whilst these are my reasons for preferring the film, there were also a couple more reasons as to why I disliked the book in general. Boyne once commented that he wrote the entire first draft of the novel in only two and a half days, barely sleeping until he got to the end. This, for me, has left a really obvious impact on the novel, often feeling rushed as it rambles on. The writing was constantly repetitive, referring to insignificant points that had already been mentioned to distract away from the seriousness of the main events of the story. I’m not saying this is a bad narrative style, as Alice Sebold does it brilliantly in The Lovely Bones, but here I found myself wanting to skip through chapters rather than being indulged by Boyne’s words.
This is the first time I have had a preference for the film rather than the book, but the book just doesn’t hold any of the emotion that the film manages to capture. Now I doubt I will ever be saying this again, but I would recommend only watching the film adaptation of this one.