Friday, 22 February 2013

Tea and book talk on a cold mid-winter day...


I have a few novels, as well as a couple of films, to talk about on this wintery morning.

I had my “friends” book group discussion last night.  We discussed The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  I’m sure you are familiar with the themes of this award-winning novel which was adapted into an award-winning film within the last few years, but I can quickly summarize it here.  Told from the point of view of two maids and one young woman in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, this novel tells the story of what it was like to be a black woman serving in a white family’s home, raising their children and cleaning their house, among other things.  There is also a young woman who sees the injustice of racial discrimination and sets about trying to change things by writing a book offering the stories of a dozen maids and their experiences.  Two members showed up for last night’s meeting, and they both loved it.  They liked the characters who were narrating, and felt that the novel was educational, in that it gave insight into that time period and the circumstances that existed then. They found it very readable, at times funny, but also very moving and sad.  I had to agree that the book was very entertaining and educational.  I actually enjoyed the book, which we had discussed with my “volunteer” book group last year.  What I did not like was the hype that surrounded this novel.  It is not a historical document, nor does it accurately portray the lives of  black domestics at that time in history, yet the hype surrounding it has portrayed this as being “the most important book since To Kill A Mockingbird…” (something like that is printed on the cover of my copy).  In my view, this novel is entertainment, and to suggest that it is an accurate representation of the situation at that time is to trivialize the situations of those domestic workers.  Sorry, I get a bit angry whenever I discuss this book, for the reasons listed above.  In fact, this book was criticized by the Association of Black Women Historians
(http://www.abwh.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2%3Aopen-statement-the-help)
regarding the trivialization and misrepresentation of these women.  Having said that, it was an interesting read, and I doubt anyone could read The Help and not be moved.

I’m nearly finished listening to Ruth Rendell’s The Vault.  It tells the story of Reginald Wexford, recently retired from the police force, who is brought in as a “consultant” to help with the case when four bodies are discovered in a coal hole (the “vault”) at Orcadia Cottage by the current owners.  There is also a subplot involving Wexford’s daughter, Sylvia, which gives the already-full story yet another dimension .  I haven’t read all of Rendell’s novels, and have been rather disappointed with some of her stand-alones, but I have enjoyed any in the Inspector Wexford series that I have read, and this one is no exception.  It is excellent, and the narrator really captures the essence of the different characters.  I look forward to listening to the last three parts over the weekend.  By the way, Ruth Rendell just had a birthday on February 17th - she is 83!

I have just barely begun reading The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, which is the next book selected for the “volunteer” group discussion in March.  I will write more about that once I’ve read it and had the discussion.

In my last post, I had just finished listening to I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and loved it.  I rented the film adaptation from the library, and I have to say, I was rather disappointed.  This is the love story set in the English countryside in the 1930s involving two sisters and two American brothers, and the girls’ father, a writer who penned one famous novel and then stopped writing for 12 years.  Well, in the film, the father is portrayed as quite harsh and abusive, while in the book, I recall that he was mostly harmless, if lacking in ambition.  That seems to be what disturbed me most about the film, but of course there were the inevitable changes to plot and characters that happen whenever a book is adapted into a film, which probably served a purpose but, in my mind, did not enhance the story.  So I would say, if you want to really experience this classic “coming-of-age” novel, read the book, don’t watch the film.

And speaking of books made into films, I recently purchased a “previously-viewed” copy of the Japanese horror film on which the American film, “The Ring”, was based.  The film’s title is “Ringu”, and it is totally creepy!  It begins with a couple of teenage girls talking about a video one of the girls watched the week before, when she was at a cabin with some friends.  She said the video predicted that she would die in seven days, and this was the seventh day.  They laugh and joke about this, then the girl dies, seemingly frightened to death by something the viewer can’t see.  Shortly thereafter, the other teens from that cabin also die in mysterious circumstances, and one of the teen’s relatives, who is a reporter, becomes curious and decides to investigate the circumstances surrounding these deaths.  She goes to the cabin and watches the video, which predicts her own death in seven days unless she… There the video cuts to static, and it is up to her to figure out how to stop her own inevitable death by discovering the truth about this video.  I rented this film a number of years ago and was fascinated by it - I remember watching it a couple of times during the week we had it as a rental.  Against my better judgement, I remember renting the American remake, and I have to say, I have no recollection of that adaptation at all, so I guess I was less-than-impressed with it.  Well, I watched my “new-to-me” dvd the other day and discovered that it is based on a book, Ringu, by a relatively new Japanese author, Koji Suzuki, so I ordered a copy for myself (the English translation, of course!) using AbeBooks, the online books exchange site that I have used so often in the past and which has always proven to be reliable.  I got the book about a week later, but haven’t started reading it yet.  Maybe it will be the book I will bring with me to Cuba to read on the beach.

I’ll close now and read a bit more of Jamie Ford’s novel - I hope to finish it before we go away, as it is a library book, so I don’t want to take it out of the country in case it gets lost or damaged, dropped in the sea or covered in sand… sun, sand and sea for a whole week… I will not be posting again until the weekend of March 9th.  Happy reading, everyone!

Bye for now!
Julie

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