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The Silent Gondoliers: A Fable by S. Morgenstern
William Goldman
Del Rey Books, 120 pages

Sergio Martinez
The Silent Gondoliers
William Goldman
William Goldman received Oscars for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 and All the President's Men in 1976. His other screenwriting credits include The Princess Bride, Misery, Magic, A Bridge Too Far, and Maverick. He has also written children's fiction, short stories and novels as well as books about screenwriting and the movie business.

The Princess Bride has developed something of a cult following with a number of websites devoted to it (see the URL below).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride Links

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Several years ago, I came across a first (at the time only) edition of William Goldman's pseudonymously published novel The Silent Gondoliers in a used bookstore. I purchased it for my wife -- a big fan of The Princess Bride -- as I was about to leave on a business trip. My travelling companion and I took turns reading the book aloud as we drove through Kentucky and Tennessee. Ever since, I've taken every opportunity to ask Del Rey to publish a paperback edition of the book. The re-release has given me the opportunity and excuse (not that one was really necessary) to re-read this short novel.

Del Rey has included in the new edition the same illustrations by Paul Giovanopoulos that appeared in the first edition in 1983. These line drawings add to the book, not because they attempt to outdo Goldman's humour, but because they are simply representations of the people and architecture which one could find in Venice, providing an anchor of fact for the humorous and fantastic events that Goldman describes.

Goldman, who is, perhaps, best known as the Hollywood screenwriter of All the President's Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is also the author of both the novel and film The Princess Bride. His attribution of The Princess Bride to his fictitious persona "S. Morgenstern" still seems to cause confusion among some readers. Goldman adopts the same persona as the "author" of The Silent Gondoliers, a story of Luigi and his variety of compatriots as he explains why the gondoliers of Venice no longer sing when they ply their trade.

Just as The Princess Bride manages to include a multitude of romantic notions in it, so, too, does The Silent Gondoliers. However, while The Princess Bride skewered the conventions of fairy tales, The Silent Gondoliers focuses its attention on legends, spotlighting the people who try to keep the legends alive. Goldman discusses many of the "people" he contacted in his attempts to research and verify the events he is relating and it quickly becomes apparent that even after 70 years, the individuals are more interested in preserving the legends surrounding Goldman's story than they are in providing him with "factual" evidence.

Just as Goldman's events are legendary, so are the various characters, ranging from Luigi, the greatest man to ever ply a gondola, to Cristaldi the Pickle, a deaf centenarian who could teach the most tone deaf man to sing, to the (naturally) beautiful Laura Lorenzini. To this mix, Goldman adds several legendary characters from life, including opera star Enrico Caruso and surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku.

With all these characters and situations, it might be wondered how Goldman manages to write a cohesive story, and the simple answer is... he doesn't. The Silent Gondoliers is rife with tangents and asides which support the main story and add to the humour of the novella as a whole. It is clear that Goldman is trying to tell an entertaining story rather than a tightly plotted one, and it is equally clear that he succeeds.

This is apparently the first reprint of The Silent Gondoliers since it first appeared in 1983, and while 17 years may be an excessive amount of time to wait for a book to be reprinted, this book is worth the wait and should gather new fans with its wider release.

Copyright © 2001 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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