Sunday, November 10, 2013

Irving Wallace's THE PRIZE

The Prize (1962) is prolific author Irving Wallace’s magnum opus on the Nobel Prizes.  Reading a novel by Irving Wallace is like eating potato chips, you know that it's junk but it tastes good and you just can’t quit.

Despite the painless lesson on the history and process of awarding the Nobel Prizes, like every other book Irving Wallace ever wrote, The Prize is a giant soap opera.  The Prize tracks the story of a group of Nobel laureates as they are notified of their prizes and travel to the award ceremony in Stockholm.

The book centers on Andrew Craig, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.  Craig’s wife died in a car wreck a few years before.  Craig blames himself for her death and has sunk into alcoholism.  There are plots and subplots and subplots of subplots.  And there are lots of characters, some of which serve no particular useful purpose other than to allow the main characters to respond to them.  Since this is an Irving Wallace novel, there is, of course, SEX.  Lots of SEX.  This was some pretty racy stuff for 1962.

Claude Marceau, part of a French husband and wife team which has won the Prize for chemistry, is having an affair with an attractive fashion model.  His wife begins an affair with a man that she does not really have any feelings for in order to make her husband jealous and win him back.  Andrew Craig apparently never saw a woman he didn’t try to sleep with - except for his homely Sister In Law that wants to marry him, but whom Craig finds repulsive.

In many respects, The Prize was a conventional spy novel.  The Physics Laureate, Max Stratman, is wanted by the Soviets.  An elaborate plot is developed to convince Stratman to defect.  This plot involves Stratman’s niece, Emily, who was sexually abused by the Nazis in the Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II, and her father who everyone thought was dead.  Of course, Craig has the hots for Emily and pursues her.  Poor Emily is depicted as trying and failing to get over her emotional problems with sex.  However, Wallace’s alter ego Andrew Craig is there to help her.

Like most Wallace novels, The Prize is an entertaining old pot boiler.  If you tackle it, be forewarned, at 600 pages  it’s about 200 pages too long.  But all, in all, old Irving’s pot boilers still hold up pretty well.

 The prolific Irving Wallace at work (1916 - 1990) 

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