I have a few book-related things to write about today as I enjoy my cup of tea and listen to the birds singing through the (still-closed) windows on this sunny spring morning.
We had our book club meeting on Friday to discuss The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I was surprised that only one of my book club members had read this novel before, as it was very popular at the time of its release in 2001, particularly because it was chosen to be an Oprah book and then, when Franzen expressed concern that this would alienate male readers whom he was trying to reach with this novel, this offer was rescinded. Well, no publicity is bad publicity, right?! (By the way, Franzen and Oprah have since resolved their issues). Anyway, the novel revolves around the members of the Lambert family, the elderly parents and their three adult children as Enid, the mother, wishes to have one last Christmas in the family home before changes must be made to accommodate her husband, Alfred’s, condition as he suffers progressive symptoms of Parkinson’s and dementia. I was not surprised that most of my members did not like the book. None of the characters were particularly “likeable” in the traditional sense, and rarely were the scenes pleasant or fun. They especially did not enjoy the scatological imagery and sexual content which was used liberally throughout the novel. There was one member, however, who did enjoy the book, and through her insights, we were able to forge a lively discussion about the rigidity of family life when the father is repressive and the mother must assert herself through manipulation, the fact that each child in a household grows up differently and faces his or her own challenges as he or she makes his or her way through life, and the fact that adult children are often still seeking parental approval even after attaining “success” in their own lives. Some members found humour in parts of the novel, something I also appreciated when reading this book. We all agreed that the character we disliked most was Carolyn, the wife of the eldest son, Gary, for the way she manipulated her sons to gain power over her husband and her refusal to accommodate Gary’s wishes for this one Christmas holiday. The one member who had read this novel before had not had time to reread it before the meeting. She was one of the members who did not like the book, but by the end of the discussion, she felt that she should read it again. As much as I enjoyed it, I definitely felt that it was flawed. Maybe the author didn’t need to use so many scatological images, or present so many sexual scenes; maybe it could have been a bit shorter; but then, would the novel have been as effective? I'm not sure. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!
I also read Stony River by Tricial Dower, a Canadian novel that is one of my “required reading” selections. It tells the story of three girls growing up in a small town in the 1950s and their very different experiences. Linda is twelve years old at the opening of the novel, when she and her friend Tereza, aged thirteen, watch as police remove two mysterious children, Miranda and Cian, from a house on the edge of town, a house where everyone thought Crazy Haggerty lived alone. What follows are the separate stories of each girl as they grow up in a time that was not necessarily as innocent as it is believe to have been. This novel presented interesting stories that were somewhat unbelievable, at least for this reader, and the writing was often uneven, but I can see how it would have appeal for some readers. I enjoyed the sections focusing on Linda the most, as it was the most straight-forward narrative with the most believable storylines and characters. Many bits were left unexplained, which left this reader ultimately disappointed. Would I recommend it? Well, only with a warning that the whole novel may not appeal to all readers.
I also wanted to talk about film adaptations of books. I recently went to see “Life of Pi”, the film that is based on the novel by Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi Patel, a young boy who is on a ship headed from India to Canada with his parents and some of the animals from their zoo when a storm capsizes the boat. Pi manages to get on a life boat and is accompanied by a zebra with a broken leg, Orange Juice the orang-utan, a hyena, and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. The rest of the novel details his trials and adventures as he struggles to survive, in mind, body and spirit. I didn’t think I would like the book, but I loved it, both times I read it. I thought about rereading it before going to watch the film, but I knew that would probably be a bad idea, as it has been so long since reading it that I have forgotten the details and so would be less likely to compare the film to the book than if the details were fresh in my mind. I thought the film was awesome!! It definitely made me want to reread the book, although I’m sure there were many differences in the adaptation.
Another adaptation I have recently encountered is the BBC series “DCI Banks”, the film versions of some of Peter Robinson’s mysteries featuring Detective Alan Banks. I’ve watched two episodes so far, and I must say, I’m less than impressed with them. Because I have read many of the mysteries a number of times, I’m pretty familiar with the characters and the details, and so I find some of the changes they have made in the adaptations to be unnecessary. For example, in “Aftermath”, a novel which deals with the abduction and murder of young girls by a husband and wife, why would they change the husband’s first name from Terry to Markus but leave the wife‘s name, Lucy, as it is in the novel? Also, in “Playing with Fire”, why did they change the first name of one of the main character from Phil Keene (book) to Mark Keene (film)? I can understand why they have changed some of the characters’ situations and behaviours, since they have not made adaptations of the whole series from the beginning. For example, they have changed Annie Cabot’s character significantly, transforming her from the mild-mannered, yoga-practicing detective in the book to a tough, ambitious officer in Complaints who wants to move to Serious Crimes (in the books, she is only moved to Complaints temporarily as a disciplinary measure after she committed some small indiscretion in an earlier book). So I think I would probably enjoy the episodes more if I was not so familiar with the books. Too bad… I will still watch them, but it won’t be as much fun as watching, say, the Inspector Lynley series, whose books I have either not yet read or have only read once and so don't remember them.
Better go and get reading and enjoying the sunshine before the rain begins.
Bye for now!