Films of books – which is better?

September is the new ‘New Year’ for many people, particularly those of us with school-age children’. Everything feels fresh and filled with optimism for me and the Autumn colours provide stunning landscapes. The air seems fresher and the sun a little brighter. Tomorrow (Thursday) marks the start of the Autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere. (Did you catch the amazing Harvest Moon last Friday? Here are some images.)

It’s also a great time of the year for the Arts – here in the north-west we have the Manchester Literature Festival  from 7-23 October; I always try and squeeze a couple of events in and many are free. The theatres all launch their new seasons – really looking forward to seeing Maxine Peake in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Royal Exchange – and there are always lots of new movie releases, in time for the Oscars in February.

I’m not a big movie watcher (most of my cinema trips are with the children), but I noticed at this year’s Oscars there were a number of big winners that were based on books. So, I set about to watch some of these, read the books on which they were based and compare. I watched/read:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, and
  • The Revenant by Michael Punke

There was also Carol, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith of course; I watched the film (which did not live up to the hype for me) but have not read the book.

Here are the results, with my scores out of 5 for each:

Room img Book 5/5

Film 5/5

Absolutely loved both of these. I believe the author wrote the screenplay and so the film follows the book very closely. Briefly, it’s about a young woman, Joy, who is kidnapped, raped and imprisoned by her captor for 9 years. She bears his child and the two are kept in an outhouse. When her son Jack is 5, Joy decides to try and escape. The film tells the story beautifully, but it does not portray the child’s perspective as brilliantly as Donoghue does in the book, his unconventional naming of things and his inability to conceive of a world outside their Room. Both are fantastic, however, and I recommend them highly.

 

The Danish Girl imgBook 3/5

Film 4/5

The Danish Girl tells the story of Lili Elbe, an early pioneer of gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s. Lili was born as Einar Wegener, a Danish artist and marries Gerda, an American. It is based loosely on facts but much of the detail is fiction. The book, for me, was less about Lili and more about the relationship with Gerda, and, indeed, the effect on her of her husband’s journey to becoming a woman. Much of the detail, for example Gerda’s back-story, is omitted from the film, and in many ways this made it a little more successful for me as it had a tighter focus. It also has a different ending, which I think works better.

 

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Book 5/5

Film 4/5

This probably would not have been on my ‘must-read’ list had I not set myself this task…which just goes to show it’s good to go out of your reading comfort-zone! Absolutely gripping book, a real adventure story, whilst also superbly-written. The Revenant is based loosely on the true story of Hugh Glass, an American pioneer in the 1820s, who is savaged by a bear and abandoned by his gang of fur-hunters who believe he will die. He is left briefly in the care of two members of the gang (whose instructions are to bury him once he is dead), but they leave him whilst he is still alive, taking his rifle and knife. Miraculously, Glass does not die after they have gone and he sets out on a quest to track down the others and enact his revenge. There are some narrative changes in the film, which I found a little clumsy, but were necessary, I think, for the different medium. Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant and it’s a real action-adventure movie, though I spent some of it with my eyes closed – a bit on the gory side for me at times!

My overall conclusion from this exercise is not that books are better, but that they tended to have more nuance and more depth, even if that was sometimes less well-executed, as in the case of The Danish Girl. I should add that in each case, I read the book first, which may have influenced my opinion.

If you have read or watched any of these, I’d love to hear your views. If you’d like to learn a bit more about these books, you can read my full-length reviews here.

A Moranifesto for our time?

2016-09-07-14-15-00This was a library loan, which is problematic as I could only borrow it for 3 weeks (and then another 3 weeks, renewed online), when actually it’s the kind of book that lends itself to being picked up from time to time, read for a few pages and then put down again. It does not work as well when you try to read big chunks of it at bedtime. (And it’s a hefty book!)

The book is basically a collection of Caitlin’s columns over the years, gathered together under broad headings. For those of you unfamiliar with her writing, she is a columnist of the light campaigning variety. She is intelligent, warm, laugh-out-loud funny and wears her heart very much on her sleeve. I love the way she shows her vulnerabilities, which, of course, become her strengths, her humanity. I enjoyed her novel How To Build a Girl (which I think is more or less her early life story), I like the TV show she co-writes with her sister, Raised By Wolves (also part-autobiographical) and I enjoy her writing whenever I come across it. I haven’t read How To Be A Woman, which became a bestseller.

I picked this up in the library after reading an extract in The Guardian Weekend but I’m afraid it left me a bit cold. I love Moran’s sense of humour but it’s not as funny after 20 pages. It works best in short bursts. I’m afraid I gave up at page 135.

In parts the book felt dated; some of the columns were published years ago, eg a few TV reviews of the 2012 Olympics. Another, a TV review about David Bowie, seems unfortunate. (I also got really irritated by the typographical errors not picked up in the editing process!)

Funnily enough, whilst writing this review, I have looked at some of the later columns I hadn’t yet got to, one in particular about the extraordinary power, wealth, stature and hedonism of New York City and what it says about the human race was an interesting read as I spent time there this summer on holiday. So, yes, it works in brief reads, but not one for getting lost in.

In need of a post-holiday magic wand?

Most children will now be back at school. And most parents will be breathing a bit of a sigh of relief! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE having mine off, and enjoy being able to step off the term-time treadmill for a few weeks, but I am always glad to get back to the routine. I have one teenager and two precocious pre-teenagers in my household, and whilst I’m no longer in the zone of clearing up their toys every five minutes or spending all day and every day ‘entertaining’ them as I did when they were little (here’s to you if you still are), a low-level chaos still seems to take over the house when they’re off school. They leave ‘stuff’ everywhere, they change clothes multiple times a day, and once the disorder sets in it is so hard to rein it back.

A few months ago, I bought Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, in a flurry of enthusiasm; after having some work done in the house and finding so much irrelevant and pointless stuff lying around as I prepared for the builders, I felt a sudden motivation to “sort things out once and for all”. The family cowered and hoped I’d get over it quite quickly. I made a good start, organising both my own wardrobe and persuading my husband to do his as well. This is Marie’s Step 1. Step 2 is Books, so I’m psyching myself up for that one! Here’s my review of the book.

I’d love to know what you think, or if you have the same feeling of needing to reorganise once the Autumn comes around.

the-life-changing-magic-imgI didn’t think that the words “life-changing” and “tidying” could belong in the same sentence in anyone’s world, let alone adding the word “magic” as well! Don’t get me wrong, like many people, I enjoy the buzz I get from a clean tidy space, it’s the cleaning and tidying bit I don’t like. Marie Kondo is a different kind of animal, but she is highly likeable because she doesn’t try to hide it. She confesses that when she was a child she loved tidying both her own and other people’s things, and devoured women’s magazines with all their cleaning and tidying tips.

I felt vaguely uncomfortable at times with this book; I was worried that it was a bit of a throw-back, like I might turn into my mother whilst reading it! However, (isn’t there always one of those?) it IS actually more than that. Decluttering experts, psychologists and television producers all know that a chaotic domestic environment often says as much about our minds as it does about our lifestyles. It can also affect our minds and our lifestyle more than we realise. And that is where Marie Kondo is coming from, in her quirky, charming and guileless way.

Continue reading “In need of a post-holiday magic wand?”

Touring the bookshops in NYC

So, it would appear that I haven’t posted a blog for almost a month. I’m afraid, dear Reader, that my tech skills (or was it my ‘phone?) let me down. I did try and post from my mobile but the app was a bit rubbish and I couldn’t make it work.

So, I’m back from my holidays. I spent some time in Dublin with my in-laws and then went on to New York City. (Lucky me, we have family living in Manhattan.) We had a fab couple of weeks, hanging out, doing NYC-type things.

I was also able to indulge my passion! – one of my favourite things to do when I visit a city is to survey the local bookshops. It helps me to get the measure of a place, even if I don’t speak the language! In New York City there is no shortage of bookstores to sample. What is also refreshing is the number of independents.  

‘Three Lives’ on W10th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village is a lovely little establishment where you feel the passion as soon as you walk through the door. It feels like a place that has its finger on the literary pulse. It’s small but beautiful, calm and the stock has been well-selected.

 

 

 

In contrast, sizewise, is Strand Books, on the corner of Broadway and E12th Street, a real NYC institution. It claims to have 18 miles of books on its five floors. It reminded me very much of Foyles in London. It also has trolleys of secondhand books on the street outside where you can pick up some bargains for a couple of dollars (helpful as the exchange rate was not in my favour!)

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Here are my literary holiday souvenirs:2016-09-07-10-20-32

The Treats Truck Baking Book was actually a gift for my daughter, who loves baking. In the Dutch Mountains I bought because the title intrigued me. From the blurb it sounded a bit like an Angela Carter, whom I love. I’m also a lover of all things Dutch. Just Kids I had to buy; I love Patti Smith and have heard her speaking about this book, I think I even read an extract from it when it was first published in 2010. Not sure why I haven’t read it yet, but it seemed fitting to do so now. Hot Milk I actually bought in Dublin at the wonderful Rathgar Bookshop. It’s been long-listed for this year’s Man Booker so I’m looking forward to reading that. The last three? Well, there are stories: in New York one is surrounded by high-achievers and their high-achieving kids, so I got a bit panicked and felt the need to get in on this secret! Unlatched was in the $2 truck – I’m a very gentle Breastfeeding Counsellor and am always perplexed by the passion and ire it evokes in equal measure, so I thought it might give me an insight. Happier At Home was a $1 proof copy. I liked Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (ever on a quest for self-improvement) and this is the follow-up.

So, I’ll let you know how I get on with these in the coming weeks and months. I’ve got so much in my ‘to read’ pile just now and am really enjoying All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’ll be back with my latest reviews very soon.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Three-Lives-Co/116725281685722

http://www.strandbooks.com/

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An absolute joy of a book

The Elegance of the Hedgehog img

I’m finding this a very hard book to review, because it is incredibly difficult to pin down. When first published (according to the blurb), it was a sensation, was serialised on BBC Radio 4 and sold five million copies worldwide. I have to confess that it passed me by at the time, but in 2008 (it was published in France in 2006) I was knee-deep in small children and did not have much time for reading. If I’d read it then, I suspect I may not have enjoyed it as much, firstly, because, for me, it was a slow-burn and took a while to get to know the characters, and, secondly, because I feel it is best savoured in longer reading sessions (although the chapters are short); my reading habit then was ten minutes a night prior to falling asleep, and this book would not have lent itself to that.

The book is divided into five ‘parts’ and each part is separated into a number of chapters, all of which have very cryptic titles. It is set in an apartment block in an affluent part of Paris. It is written in the first person and there are two narrators: Renee, the middle-aged concierge, and Paloma, the pre-teen daughter of one of the resident families. Both are highly intelligent ‘misfits’. Renee comes from a poor provincial family and never received the education her intellect deserved. She has devoted her adult life to learning at the local library, devouring a diverse range of topics, about which she speaks with knowledge and authority. Sadly for Renee, the class constraints of French society have held her back and she has never felt able to ‘flower’ or to realise her potential. To the residents of the apartment block (most of whom we understand to be buffoons, snobs and poor little rich kids) Renee is careful to maintain the façade of the stereotypical concierge – subservient, truculent and uneducated.

Paloma is a precocious young girl whose superior intelligence means she finds the company of her family irksome as she is irritated by their social and intellectual pretensions. School is also a bore, her teachers dull and obtuse, a place where she feels she has to ‘dumb-down’. Like Renee she prefers to keep her intelligence hidden – for the sake of a quiet life, perhaps, but also I think because she has yet to meet anyone worthy of seeing that side to her.

Then, the mysterious Mr Ozu from Japan moves into the block, following the death of one of the more odious residents, and his presence sparks a fascination in both Renee and Paloma because of their mutual interest in Japanese culture. Continue reading “An absolute joy of a book”

What I’ll be reading this summer

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A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my suggestions for reading this summer.Well, I though I’d share with you what my reading plans are. For me, ‘summer’ means August, when the kids are off school, so that’s when we take our main family holiday. Now that my kids are a little older and don’t need to be watched or played with every waking moment, there really is some downtime during holidays, so I expect to get through all four of the above. I’ll let you know how I get on!

The Glorious Heresies has been on my must-read list for a while, since it was nominated for (and, of course, subsequently won) the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year. The reviews I have read remind me of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy (OMG, had to just look it up – The Commitments film came out in 1991!!!) So, I’m looking forward to something very Irish and very gritty while I’m hanging out in Dublin next week!

The Little Red Chairs will be very Irish, but probably somewhat less gritty. I’ve not read much Edna O’Brien, a gap in my knowledge I think. The novel is about the impact a travelling faith-healer from Eastern Europe has on a small west-coast Irish community. Joseph O’Connor (author of The Star of the Sea, one of my favourite books ever) is quoted on the cover, describing it as ‘Extraordinary’, which is good enough for me.

The House of Hidden Mothers came up in one of those ‘Amazon recommends…’ emails. I don’t normally give in to such blatant marketing, but I do love Meera Syal, such a versatile talent. Its subject matter ticks all my boxes – motherhood, women, families and everyday domestic life which is never as ordinary as it seems at first. I’m sure I will enjoy it. This one for the long ‘plane journey I think.

Finally, All the Light We Cannot See…and I cannot for the life of me think why I chose this! I really liked the cover? I’ve read a few books set during the Second World War recently, and this one, like the ones I really enjoyed, seems to be about people on opposite sides who find each other through their common humanity. Plus, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015, so that’s as good an endorsement as any.

So, if you like the sound of any of these, look out for my reviews on them in the coming weeks. I’m off to Ireland then America with the family. Whatever you and yours are doing, have a good summer and happy reading!

A superbly unconventional novel

Etta & Otto img

If you are going to Canada for your holiday this year, this would be a fantastic read. I hope the background I’ve given in the opening paragraphs of my review below doesn’t give away too much information!

Etta and Otto are an elderly married couple. Russell is their friend and neighbour. The three have known each other all their lives. They are all in their twilight years, but there is a sense that they each have something left to do. The narrative is non-linear and as the book progresses Hooper fills in the details of their early lives, how they all met, the circumstances of their childhood and upbringing, and how this human triangle evolved.

We learn that Otto and Russell lived on neighbouring farms, Otto one of a large number of children in a dirt-poor rural family, Russell the nephew of a childless couple who had come to live with his aunt and uncle after his mother left in circumstances that are not fully explained. Etta comes from a more middle-class background, but her early life is devastated by the loss of her beloved sister Alma, who was sent to a convent far away on the coast after becoming pregnant, but who dies in or after childbirth from blood poisoning (there is no word on the child so we must presume it died too).

Etta goes to teacher training college and seizes an opportunity to take a job at a rural school (where the existing teacher had been forced to leave after losing his voice). Here she meets the two boys who are near contemporaries of hers. It is sometime in the late 1930s/early 1940s and, presently, Otto volunteers to join the war and is sent to Europe. Russell remains behind; he was left with a disability after sustaining a childhood injury to his leg, playing on a tractor with Otto and his siblings.

Continue reading “A superbly unconventional novel”