Tarantino’s first novel is, to borrow a phrase from his oeuvre, a tasty beverage ... Tarantino isn’t trying to play here what another novelist/screenwriter, Terry Southern, liked to call the Quality Lit Game. He’s not out to impress us with the intricacy of his sentences or the nuance of his psychological insights. He’s here to tell a story, in take-it-or-leave-it Elmore Leonard fashion, and to make room along the way to talk about some of the things he cares about — old movies, male camaraderie, revenge and redemption, music and style. He gets it: Pop culture is what America has instead of mythology. He got bitten early by this notion, and he’s stayed bitten. The novel is loose-jointed. If it were written better, it’d be written worse. It’s a mass-market paperback that reeks of mass-market paperbacks. In my memory, it’s the smell of warm coconut oil and dust mites and puddling Mercurochrome ... Tarantino goes so deep into Manson’s once-promising music career, you may feel you’re reading a back issue of Rolling Stone or Mojo magazine ... Tarantino makes telling a page-turning story seem easy, which is the hardest trick of all.
The book is a distinct experience — rangier, sexier, bloodier. More wistful, and somewhat more oblique in meaning, it expands the film’s world even as it comments upon it ... Some lines are lifted verbatim from the screenplay, but there’s plenty of new material too ... Cinephilia is integral to Tarantino’s work, and Once Upon a Time is a fanboy’s scrapbook of period detail. A footnoted edition would run twice the length parsing references to forgotten actors, separating real from invented movies and glossing the insider talk about old action movies. How much readers will enjoy all this may depend on their familiarity with Golden Age Hollywood. But even casual Tarantino fans will enjoy his self-referential nods ... Tarantino’s explosive dialogue, with its blend of streetwise and formal cadences, is almost as effective written down as read aloud ... And although the brio with which he imitates period idiom produces the occasional absurdity, on the whole it helps to create an authentically pulpy atmosphere ... Tarantino is a narrator who likes to show and tell, making him a boisterous if somewhat undisciplined presence. There’s often no tidy line between a character’s perspective and the narrator’s, and given the decidedly non-PC attitudes on display, this can be a little hair-raising. (Not that he cares.) It can also disrupt the period effect ... Absent the voluptuous thrills of the cinematic experience — the operatic splatter, the rambunctious camerawork, the golden needle-drops — Once Upon a Time is perhaps less like a trip to the movies than a night in with Tarantino. Chapters have the propulsive thrust of anecdotes; his exuberant excess is the dominant charm. Far from being the throwaway artifact it sometimes pretends to be, Tarantino’s first novel may even, as he’s hinted, herald the start of a new direction for this relentlessly inventive director.
... the 400-page novel wears its sprawling messiness on its sleeve and frequently expands on and deviates from the film ... Fittingly, the novel often reads like the affable, drunken remembrances of things past from those seasoned showbiz Old Timers—replete with Tarantino’s trademark foot fetishism for good measure. The most elating moments stem from the alternative Hollywood histories Tarantino concocts, bits of which yield terrifically fourth-wall-obliterating winks to the reader (including a brief reimagined possibility of his own career). Admittedly, for anyone looking to quench a thirst for something resembling truth about Charles Manson and the murder of Sharon Tate—not to mention Roman Polanski’s relationship with the actress—this book unfortunately runs dry ... However, for fans of Once upon a Time … in Hollywood’s buddy duo for the ages, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, those glibly shallow, factually weak points are easy to overlook in a book with such effervescent delights to offer in the company of these wonderful characters. If Tarantino’s 10th film is indeed his cinematic swan song, this novel bodes well for a worthy post-retirement creative chapter ahead.
I have to admit I was disappointed with the way Tarantino changes the ending, giving merely a throwaway mention early on to the ultraviolent freakout that formed the film’s finale. Of course, fans of the original will know all about the big finish already; or it could be that he wants novel and film to complement each other, as a multimedia installation. But the book is entirely outrageous and addictively readable on its own terms – even the wildly prolix digressive sections and endless savant riffs about movies and TV ... As usual, the novel shows Tarantino as a black belt in provocation ... The book is a reminder that Tarantino is, in fact, a really good writer, and it should not be so surprising that his brilliance as a screenwriter should be transferable into fiction, in the firework displays of dialogue but also the building blocks of narrative. He’s maybe not in the Elmore Leonard league but, like Leonard, he’s refreshingly unconcerned with the literary mainstream. I read this in one sitting – just like watching a film.
Though the writing still has the rat-a-tat pace of a screenplay, this is not a straightforward, beat for beat adaptation. It’s intriguing to see where the director lingers and where he rushes ... Without that final set-piece looming over it, the narrative flits around untethered. Tarantino’s concern here is world-building, luxuriating in an era and a genre that he is clearly fascinated by - to the extent that factual digressions about 60s filmmakers are constantly cropping up. Swathes of the novel are a strange, rag-tag mix of pulpy action, Western melodrama (in chapters where the plot of a pilot episode in which Rick is guest-starring is expanded upon at length) and interpolated cinema history. It’s hard to escape the feeling that Tarantino is writing his own fanfiction - albeit with undeniable flair. At several points, he sneakily inserts versions of himself into the narrative, like the novelistic equivalent of his film cameos ... All of his other hallmarks (spot the unnecessary references to feet) are present and correct - including shades of misogyny and the countless racial slurs which, as ever, he almost seems to be goading us with. Tarantino would doubtless argue, as he has done before, that he’s simply realistically portraying the attitudes of the time - his fellow director Spike Lee has laid out a strong counter-argument on many occasions, too. This novel won’t change your stance on Tarantino; it will simply entrench it further. This contrarian probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
... far better than I expected it to be. Anyone who admired the movie will have a great time with this spin-off work ... I haven’t read a film-to-book novelisation since I was a teenager; among disreputable genres it’s down there with the reality TV star autobiography. Yet Tarantino has such fun expanding his fictional world, and the results are sufficiently intriguing, as to suggest that more auteurs might consider becoming authors. As a pop culture polymath, he exploits the novel format to lay on thick his lavishly detailed, period Hollywood shop talk and industry gossip. With its garrulously omniscient third-person narration, the book serves as an essay on cinema and televisual history. Sometimes, the fictive mask comes off and it’s unmistakably Tarantino talking right at us ... the process of novelisation anchors the meandering story. There is little actual structure here, but the backlighting provided by the film means it doesn’t really matter: the characters and settings benefit from a charisma emanating across media ... Tarantino is no Henry James. He over-explains, repeats himself and dishes out stock phrases to get the descriptive job done ... So it goes – Tarantino is inventive and playful in other ways ... As in his films, Tarantino’s insatiable enthusiasm for pop culture trivia is infectious and thrilling. I will be reading the memoir.
While the book’s publication as a 1970s-style mass-market paperback emulates that subgenre, Tarantino goes far beyond its usual parameters in this vividly interiorized, ardently researched, and far-reaching portrayal of individuals spellbound and endangered by Hollywood’s dream factory ... When Rick lands a part in a promising new Western series, Tarantino links the show’s story of a besieged rancher and his fractured family to the archetypal tragedies of the Greeks and Shakespeare with gritty humor and striking insights. Scenes on the set also deliver the novel’s bright and hopeful guiding light, eight-year-old acting prodigy Trudi Frazer. Provoking, wily, controversial, and revered Tarantino, celebrated for his screenplays, truly is a literary force, stepping forward as a novelist adept at using an omniscient point of view to powerful effect in a novel driven by its characters’ inner lives and smart, witty, and salty dialogue of propulsion and nuance, hilarity and heartbreak. Departing from the movie in intriguing ways, this is a send-up of the old-school yet still kicking heterosexual, white-male mindset rife with desire, resentment, entitlement, fear, and misogyny. It will also offer a stereoscopic experience for most readers as they envision the characters as played by the movie’s cast, especially Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, and picture the settings from the movie, a doubling that will inspire fanatic comparisons between film and page. But this is a work of literary art in its own right, a novel that, if the movie didn’t exist, would captivate readers with its own knowing vision and zestful power.