In the Belly of the Beast

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In the Belly of the Beast
Inthebellyofthebeast paperbackcover.jpg
Cover of the paperback edition
Author Jack Henry Abbott
Country United States
Language English
Subject Prison life
Publication date
ISBN 978-0-679-73237-2
OCLC 23020567
365/.44/092 B 20
LC Class HV9468.A22 A37 1991
Followed by My Return

In the Belly of the Beast is a book written by Jack Henry Abbott and published in 1981.

Jack Henry Abbott was an American prisoner and the book consists of his letters to Norman Mailer about his experiences in what Abbott saw as a brutal and unjust prison system. Mailer supported Abbott's successful bid for parole in 1981, the year that In the Belly of the Beast was published.

The book was very successful, and on July 19, 1981, the New York Times published a praising review of it. However, the day before, Abbott had killed a waiter during a row at a restaurant called Binibon on 2nd Avenue in the East Village. Abbott was eventually arrested, convicted of manslaughter, and returned to prison for the rest of his life until his suicide in 2002.

In 1983–1985, William Petersen starred in several stage performances based on the book, for which he received a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actor.[1]

In 2004, the New York City theatre company 29th Street Rep ran a play based on the book, named In the Belly of the Beast Revisited.[2]

An analysis of the book[edit]

The book has no organizing principle of chronology, nor is it constructed along conventional tale-telling lines. Instead, it has an Introduction by Mailer, a Foreword, and twelve chapters. Each chapter bears a title that labels the chapter's content; the text consists of excerpts on the subject, extracted from Abbott's letters to Mailer. The chapters do not cleave cleanly into discrete matter; there is a lot of overlap in subject matter. Erroll McDonald, a Random House editor, was the organizer.

In the media[edit]

Portions of Belly of the Beast were used in the film Shambondama Elegy' (a.k.a. Tokyo Elegy) by Ian Kerkhof.

The Australian movie Ghosts… of the Civil Dead, directed by John Hillcoat, was largely influenced by In Belly of the Beast. Hillcoat had corresponded with Abbott after his return to incarceration. One of the movie's co-authors, Nick Cave, was also inspired when writing the song "Jack's Shadow".[3]

In Psycho II, the character of Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly) can be seen reading In the Belly of the Beast. The book is later glimpsed, abandoned in the dust outside the Bates Motel, in Psycho III.


  1. ^ Webb, Andrew. "'In The Belly Of The Beast' Searing Tale Of Prison Survival" Sun-Sentinel, June 7, 1985
  2. ^ Summer, Elyse. "In the Belly of the Beast, Revisited, a CurtainUp review". Retrieved 2009-09-08. 
  3. ^ John H. Baker (2013). The Art of Nick Cave: New Critical Essays. Intellect Ltd. p. 143. ISBN 978-1841506272.