I anticipated I would enjoy this book. It has been widely lauded as an inspirational and warming story of an older couple facing and coping with adversity. It has won plaudits and awards and garnered five star reviews in newspapers and magazines. It is a memoir often described as life affirming and as being in touch with the land’s and nature’s beauty. I did indeed enjoy it, but perhaps a bit less than I had thought I might. It was a pleasant read but not a book I will recollect years from now nor one I will try and encourage people to seek out. A solid 3 stars out of 5, neither more nor less.
The story is a simple tale simply told. It concerns a couple who loose their home due to financial trickery and then are hit by the dreadful news that the husband has a slow, but ultimately terminal, neurodegenerative illness. With nowhere to live and nothing to do they decide to walk the South West Coastal Path, wild camping and living on the meagre social security benefits they had. During this time they rediscover what is important to them, rediscover each other and find that a different and better future is possible for them.
The writing is easy-going and, at times, evocative of the landscape around them. However, a lot of the times though the description may be factually accurate it falls flat and fails to convey any of the emotional impact of the surroundings. Chance encounters are described and are sometimes humorous but important events and details are entirely missed. (It seems implausible that their children, who rarely figure, would have such little contact given their parents’ homelessness and awful diagnosis). Occasional passages read like direct cut and paste insertions after a google search on the problems on homelessness and a number of the characters are too much like stereotypes to be believable. Particularly towards the end of the book there are a number of coincidences that truly strain the readers credulity.
I enjoyed the book and am happy that, on their summer trek, this couple did find a way out of their dire situation. It was heart warming to know that it ended well for them but ultimately I don’t think their story tells lessons from which we all can learn. The homilies don’t reveal much new. Other readers have obviously seen much more in the book that I was able to, so it is quite possible you may enjoy it more than I did.
It seems I am out of step with the world. All of France, every reviewer in the United Kingdom, and each and every member of my book-club thought that “The Reader on the 6.27” was delightful, except for me. This small novella, by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent has won plaudits worldwide and has been successful in many different countries. It is likely to be turned into a film and I can see that this, if done successfully, could be similar to the Gallic hit “Amelie”. A similar tale of quirky characters making their way in a world that fails to understand them.
It is not that I disliked this book. It is rather too slight to actively dislike. It is a short tale of a sad lonely man working in a book pulping factory with a number of rather fantastic acquaintances (For example the security guard who only speaks in alexandrines – verses of six iambic feet). Our protagonist reads out loud random pages he has kept, after cleaning the pulping machine, while on the train to work, to the apparent delight of his fellow commuters (Presumably those not wise enough to have headphones). Once, while on the train, he comes across a memory stick with the writings of another loner, a girl who works as a lavatory attendant, and falls in love with her. After searching, and a period of what some might call ‘stalking’, they make contact and in the tradition of all Fairy Tales ‘they all lived ….. …. …….“(I have blanked out some words so as not to give away the ending).
The writing is descriptive but the characters lack any depth. They are chimera created to tell us something about literature, books and reading rather than descriptions of possible people. Their quirkiness is too overdrawn and starts to grate after a while. It was rather like eating a “French Fancy“, or petit four; a single bite it is sweet and pleasant enough, but any larger and it would become nauseating.Similarly the symbolism is rather heavily applied and we are never allowed to discover things for ourselves as the authors opinion is blatantly obvious with no room for doubt or discussion. But it is a short novel and these are minor gripes, it is all over quite quickly.
Where I seem to be discordant with the rest of the world is that I sense a seam of supercilious, misanthropy running through the text. All the characters who are not saved by a love of literature are guzzling or belching (co-workers), rutting or wanking (speed daters), or farting or shitting (toilet customers). Those who people the world outside the lives of the two autistic main characters would make anyone lock their doors and live alone.
I think this is perhaps part of the reason for its success. It is often touted as the “perfect book club book” and this is correct. It is a book which says : we are those who love books, we are often sad and alone as the barbarians outside do not recognise our sensitivities, we are not troubled by the bodily desires of the common herd, we are above all of that.
I can understand that it possibly is a case of casting pearls before swine, and hoi polloi like myself can’t suspend our disbelief adequately to engage with the novel. Perhaps I am just not sensitive enough to enjoy it. I can be considered as the large oaf sitting with a delicate little book, my big calloused hands having difficulty with the delicate pages. If there is an image of me with this book it would be the Abdominable Snow Rabbit petting Daffy Duck. So think of me as the Abdominal Snow Rabbit and take my advice on this book with this thought in mind. It is quite likely you will enjoy it, the rest of the world did, and you are almost certainly more cultured and sensitive than I am.
I blame Audrey Hepburn. Alright, she wasn’t acting on her own but had a number of accomplices. Alongside her winning looks and performance, Henry Mancini’s composition “Moon River” and Blake Edward’s direction make “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” one of the great films. In fact in 2012 it was recognized as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry . I’d agree with praise lavished on the film as it is one of my favourites. However, due to the film’s success I thought I could accurately, anticipate what would be in the book and, as a consequence, I had never bothered to pick up Truman Capote’s novella and read it. Yesterday, in preparation for the book club later on, I got around to reading the original and was pleasantly shocked.
There are many times when the book and the film are closely related. For example I doubt anyone could find many important differences between the cinematic and literary versions of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451“. Anyone having read, or seen, one could anticipate the other and there would be no surprises; one art form has held a mirror up to another, created its sibling, and managed to double our pleasure. Sometimes films do take liberties with the content or intention of books and, while the result may be pleasing, they must be seen as two quite separate entities, related but separate, as the messages communicated are potentially very different. This film is so different to the book as to be almost unrelated. Perhaps it is a second cousin twice removed from the original book.
While they have taken the name and the beauty of the Holly Golightly character they have cleaned her up and washed away all the complex and untidy aspects of her nature. They have changed the era in which the story takes place. The novella occurs in wartime – a time of austerity, a time of death and uncertainty and it has the wise-cracking dialogue of the time. The book occurs in the post-war period – a period of optimism and growth and abundance. Holly in the book is a very complicated character, lively and enticing as in the film, but much more free in her spirits, partially a libertine and partially a lost soul. She uses her looks and youth to survive though it is clear that she is a character who has many other strings to he bow – she can act, she can sing and speak other languages – but she can not face being tied down or to live in the mundane world.
“I’ll never get used to anything. Anybody that does, they might as well be dead”
Both the book and the film convey Holly’s beauty and attractions. It is difficult to imaging the character Holly Golightly without imagining Audrey in her sunglasses, elbow length gloves and cigarette holder. In the film the sunglasses carry the glamour of Jackie Onassis and the mystery of the mask. In the book we know that masks do help to hide ourselves but that also the sunglasses can hide the effects, or black eye, from the night before.
She misses all her opportunities for contentment, as to be content is inadequate for her. This leads her to a life possibly overful which makes her question her own, and society’s morals, and wonders if she is a prostitute by living off her appearance and favours :-
“Really, though, I toted up the other night, and I’ve only had eleven lovers — not counting anything that happened before I was thirteen because, after all, that just doesn’t count. Eleven. Does that make me a whore? ”
“Of course I haven’t anything against whores. Except this: some of them may have an honest tongue but they all have dishonest hearts. I mean, you can’t bang the guy and cash his checks and at least not try to believe you love him. I never have. Even Benny Shacklett and all those rodents. I sort of hypnotized myself into thinking their sheer rattiness had a certain allure”
She recognizes that love is more important than sex and it is clear that other characters, who have no libidinous interest in her, do indeed love her and, over a generation ago, she suggested that all love should be considered valuable.
“I’d settle for Garbo any day. Why not? A person ought to be able to marry men or women or — listen, if you came to me and said you wanted to hitch up with Man o’ War, I’d respect your feeling. No, I’m serious. Love should be allowed. I’m all for it”
However, her fears of restraint or curtailment hamper any attempts at forming deeper relationships. We always know this is going to be a picaresque tale and unlike the film there is to be no happy ending. In the book we know that she will be an ever fading beauty who will slide from view as her looks and allure weaken. It is in this area that the book and film differ most markedly. Both are romances but the film is a romance of fairy tales and dreams coming true, while the book is a tale of loosing your heart to someone while you try and live your dream