Once Upon a Time in Hollywood book: Five big takeaways from Quentin Tarantino’s novelization

There are two big takeaways from Quentin Tarantino’s novelization of his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The first would be his talent as an author. We’ve known for nearly three decades that he can present himself with brilliant storylines and engaging dialogue, but it’s his talent as a novelist that will surprise you.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was Tarantino’s 2019 love letter to Hollywood from a bygone era, and hippie culture, through the eyes of two fictional characters – Rock Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and one inspired by a real one – Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).


The second impression, once you have passed halfway, is that it is quite a complacent job. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on how much you invest in Tarantino’s late 1960s Hollywood fairytale reenactment.

Everything in the book is saturated with the filmmaker’s love for the cinema of yesteryear. The book’s subtitle teases, “You Should Have Been There!” echoing a now-extinct way of promoting creative works, usually of a disreputable type. The writing mimics the then prevalent style of prose fiction, which is both enriching and infuriating.

Here are five big takeaways from the book:

1. The novel greatly expands the story

Margot Robbie Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. (Photo: Sony Pictures release)


Like most novels, the book fills a lot of the blanks and expands the story to a great extent. Minor characters like Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy, Al Pacino’s Marvin Schwarz, Julia Butters’ Trudi Frazer, take on a bigger role and embellish the story.

2. The writing style is unique

Quentin Tarantino Quentin Tarantino is expected to take up writing after retiring from his film career. (Photo: Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP, file)

As said earlier Tarantino should start writing after retiring from his film career, he’s so good. Granted, the book needed a lot more editing as the author tends to repeat things over and over again.

3. Cliff Booth murdered his wife – really

Brad Pitt, cliff stand Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Photo: Sony Pictures release)

While the film left it ambiguous, the book settles the argument. Cliff killed his wife and got away with it. In fact, he got away with murder three times. This does not include all of the enemy soldiers he killed while serving in WWII. He was declared the soldier with the most confirmed Japanese victories in the Pacific theater.

4. Cliff Booth vs. Bruce Lee

Cliff Booth, Bruce Lee Cliff Booth vs. Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Photo: Sony Pictures release)

In addition to everyone he killed, Cliff, in his infamous showdown with martial arts legend Bruce Lee, wanted to kill him. Tarantino differentiates Cliff and Bruce in one way: the Chinese actor just wanted to humiliate Cliff, not really hurt him. But Cliff? As Tarantino says, if he had broken Bruce’s back and paralyzed him, it would have been good for him. Tarantino, or at least the narrator of the book, claims that Lee disrespected American stuntmen and regularly “tagged” them – actually hitting them instead of just playing. The less than flattering portrayal of Lee sparked anger upon the film’s release and was denounced by the late actor’s daughter, Shannon.

5. Brandy was a fighting dog

Once upon a time in hollywood Brandy in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Photo: Sony Pictures release)

Remember Brandy, the pit bull’s Cliff tank who proved to be very useful in fighting hippies? Even he has a story in the book. Tarantino reveals that he was a real fighting dog and that he made a lot of money for Cliff and his friend (the one he murdered) in aerial fights across the country. During the events of the film, he retired but is still, as we have seen, a strong and fierce fighter.

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