Monday, April 9, 2012

2 Quick Book Reviews

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

 I meant to read this a few months ago, so I could see the movie before Oscar time. (I always try to read the book before I see the movie it's based on.) However, it took until this month before my name came up on the library hold list.

 The book was definitely worth the wait. Not my usual fantasy/sci-fi pick, this historical novel is set in the south in the early 1960s. If you've seen the movie buzz, you know what it's about: Upper-class white girl/aspiring author decides to write a book telling the stories of the ubiquitous black maids around her, against the background of the civil rights movement.

 The book changes point-of-view between Skeeter, the would-be author, Aibileen, maid and nanny to Skeeter's childhood friend Elizabeth, and Minnie, Aibileen's friend and former maid to Skeeter's other friend, Hilly. The sections of Aibileen and Minnie are written in the vernacular, which I found very distracting at first - it feels very artificial in my head, like I have to translate as I go. I got over it pretty quickly, since the story is so engrossing.

  Since I was born in 1970, this setting is as much history to me as if it had been set in the middle ages, and almost as hard to understand - people really believed these things, acted this way, and it was all just accepted as the Way Things Were. The author does a great job of placing the reader in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, of creating the historical context for the stories of the help. All of the characters, and their stories, are touching, amusing and moving. It's a book that stays with you. And now, I can't wait to rent the movie.

The Art of Deception
by Elizabeth Ironside

 Also not my usual fantasy/sci-fi novel, this is a very British book. Sort of a murder mystery, set in London, it's told in the first person by Nicholas Osterlonie, an amateur art historian, who recounts how his life unraveled when his wife left him and he encounters a beautiful neighbor, who might be connected to the Russian Mafia. Everything in the story is about perceptions, how we make judgments based on limited information, and see only what fits our preconceptions.

 The plot is way too complex, and nebulous, to really summarize, but it's an odd little story, with a twist ending that will have the reader flipping back, seeing what clues might have been missed because of our own incomplete perceptions, and our own understanding of how we expect the characters to behave based on the possibly unreliable information presented by the first-person narrator.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

So, we finally got to The Hunger Games, and only the second weekend it's out - pretty good for us. And the movie was just as awesome as I expected - and I expected a lot!

 My number one question was how they were going to film the violence in a PG-13 way, without watering down the impact. The answer: Very well, thank you. The bloodbath scene at the cornucopia is just as horrifying as I imagined while reading, but without obvious gore. It carries more of an impact that way; with the quick cuts, you see just enough to imagine the worst.

The young actors show some serious acting chops in roles that not only call for emotional depth, but are physically demanding as well. This movie would have completely fallen apart if the young leads weren't up to the task, but they not only make the audience care, they bring us right into the arena with them.

 The movie isn't a word-for-word remake of the book - that wouldn't have worked - but it captures the spirit. A few minor things are changed, scenes added or moved around to keep the story flowing naturally. Of course, the story had to be condensed, but I think the scriptwriter's choices of what to take out and what to leave in were spot on. I saw the movie with three people who hadn't read the book, and they had no trouble following the story.

Obviously, I really, REALLY liked it - best movie I've seen yet this year. (OK, I've only seen three movies this year, but still...) Whether you've read the book or not, whether you like sci-fi or not, I can't imagine anyone not liking this movie. I won't say "enjoying," that's not the right word for a movie as dark as this one, but you'll be thinking about it and discussing it for a long time.