THE TESTAMENT OF JUDITH BARTON by Wendy Powers and Robin McLeod is the story of Judy Barton, a minor character who plays an important role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In the novel, she steps out of Hitchcock’s psychological masterpiece to tell her story. But whether or not you’ve seen Vertigo, you will enjoy TESTAMENT.
Like Vertigo, TESTAMENT deals with obsession. But unlike the film, the book gives flesh and blood to the movie’s sketch of Judy Barton and does so brilliantly. While its plot deviates from much of the movie’s storyboard, TESTAMENT merges with some of its later scenes (with permission from the Alfred Hitchcock estate.)
TESTAMENT is Judy Barton’s story, not Scottie’s, the main character in Vertigo, so it deals not only with obsession, but with female uncertainty and passivity in the male-dominated world of postwar America and adds a greater dimension to the role of Judy Barton/Madeleine Elster in the film. And this makes for some interesting comparison and offers one explanation for the suicide attempt in the film: while Scottie has a fear of heights, the events of Judy’s life plunge her downward.
TESTAMENT begins with Judy Barton’s childhood in Salina, Kansas where her father, a jeweler, introduces his younger daughter to the world of gems, and there are early scenes where gems, especially rubies and emeralds, figure in the dialogue of father and daughter and presage later scenes in the book. Following the tradition of private education in the late 40s and 50s, Judy’s middle-American upbringing prepares her for a life of passivity in a world dominated by men. High school also acquaints her with the theater.
After her father dies and she has a brief but loveless romance, Judy escapes to San Francisco where she finds work as a jeweler’s assistant. She joins an acting studio employing Lee Strasberg’s Method, a school of acting that emphasizes merging with the character in order to achieve authenticity, a preparation for Judy Barton’s later role in the story. Down on her luck, she meets some of the other main characters of Vertigo and the story merges with parts of the movie.
Even though I’d seen Vertigo many times, I found the book mesmerizing and I was captivated by its sense of foreboding. From the start, mood and tone are subdued, building slowly, deliberately to ominous. Judy tells her own story and has a very interesting way of dealing with the scenes of heightened emotion, switching from past tense to the more immediate present.
I totally enjoyed the reading experience, especially the descriptions of San Francisco which for me augmented the book’s sense of mystery and dread. If you’re hunting for a well-written and researched psychological thriller—the can’t put down type—then I highly recommend THE TESTAMENT OF JUDITH BARTON.
My Rating: 4 Stars
About the authors:
While writing The Testament of Judith Barton, Wendy, Robin and their white cat Pearl lived on a hill overlooking San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. They now reside in Byrd Park, Richmond, Virginia.
THE TESTAMENT OF JUDITH BARTON
Copyright © 2011 by Wendy Powers and Robin McLeod