Having recently written a long overdue review of the film version of The Wolf of Wall Street, a great Scorcese/DiCaprio film (my review is here https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/the-wolf-of-wall-street-film-review/), I can now write about the original material for the film, as I have just completed the reading of Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same title.
Not often is a film better than the novel, but this just might be one of those cases.
While Belfort has an incredible tale to tell, he is not a writer, and there are times in the novel where this shows. There is too much repetition (ok, Jordan, we get it, the Duchess is very attractive), and sometimes the figurative language is forced, but it does not really take away from the story. As with the film, it is the story of a rise and fall of the man they called the Wolf, who took Wall Street for millions, illegally, and then eventually had to pay the price. His story is one of greed and debauchery, about having it all and then wanting more.
Belfort is a very smart man, and in the novel, we see a little bit more into how clever he was in manipulating the stock market to make himself millions of dollars. We are able to read more detail about the anarchy and decadence of his firm and his loyal Strattonites. This may seem like a surprise, because there was no shortage of drugs and sex in the movie, but trust me, there is even more in the book.
It is sometimes hard to tell is Belfort is bragging about the things he has done, or if he is a man who has paid the price and has really learned a lesson. It is tough to tell which person he is: the caring rich guy who was willing to help out anyone who needed it, or the pretentious millionaire who looked down at those who weren’t as obsessed with money as he was.
Is Jordan the hero, or the villain of his own story?
The advantages of the book are that we get to know the characters with some more depth than we do in the film. In the movie version, they are caricatures of people who exist in real life, yet we don’t really get to know who they really are. We also get a lot more insight into Jordan himself, as he is able to describe his thought process in a way that the narration in the film was unable to do. And we get to see a little bit more of the genius that this man possessed, something I argued against in the film version.
A downside to the book is that sometimes it seems we are simply reading a list of conquests that one man has. Yes, he sleeps with many women. Yes, they are beautiful. Sure, they are primarily prostitutes, but it still counts, right? Sure, he did a lot of drugs and got away with some pretty strange and heinous things (the plane to Switzerland incident being one of them- imagine that kind of behavior on a flight now!). Even delving deeper into the person that Belfort is, by the end of the book, as with the movie, we are forced to ask ourselves if we actually like this character.
He is charming, and has a silver tongue, and it would be difficult to resist these things. But does he do the things he does because of his addiction problems, or because he knows that he is rich enough to get away with them? Perhaps a little bit of both. His second wife, Nadine, the Duchess, is no angel, but the way that he treats her is laughable. He knows the choices he makes will get him into trouble, and that it will send her into a rage, yet he does it anyways, because he knows that she will not leave him, and that after a few days of anger, she will calm down and things will be fine again. These are the actions of a bad person. Sure, the incidents he lives through are humorous, but dangerous. Not only to himself, but to others as well. Should he be celebrated or hated?
I guess this is the main point of the book. When we can seemingly do whatever we want, who wouldn’t go ahead and go for it?
The Wolf of Wall Street is a pretty entertaining read, for all of its faults. It is not the best written book out there, but it is full of enough incidents that it makes for a pretty decent narrative. I don’t know that I would recommend it over the film version, since that was so good, but if you are looking for something to read over the summer, and have seen the movie, but wanted to know more, then go ahead and give this one a read.