Random thought: film vs book, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

I watched Wild before I read Cheryl Strayed’s book. Well, I watched most of Wild. I was on a plane and turbulence meant that I didn’t get to finish watching before landing. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, but the film didn’t prepare me for the emotional rollercoaster that the book turned out to be for me.

I don’t mind watching a film before I’ve read a book, but I’m often reluctant to watch films based on books that I have read and loved with a passion, mainly for the reason that the screenwriter and the director don’t share my impressions of the book and its characters.

Wild was on TV last night, though, and I watched it again so that I could see the end. Having read the book, and knowing that Cheryl and her experiences are so much more than the film could contain, I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s performance much more. I’d found her strangely earnest on my first watch.

What I didn’t enjoy was the knowledge of what had been cut from the full story in order to fit within the time boundaries of a cinema release. So much of what was behind Cheryl’s life decisions was omitted, and the flashbacks to the actions she was driven to by grief lacked nuance. I suspect that this paring back of context was what made Witherspoon’s performance seem so earnest first time around.

I watched the credits and saw that the screenwriter was Nick Hornby. I recognise that reducing such a packed and complex book into a feature film is a big challenge. I think he did a good job, but it did make me wonder how a female screenwriter would have tackled Cheryl’s past and the way the hike changed her, and whether a woman would have interpreted Cheryl’s encounters with the people she meets along the way differently. One thing in particular that Hornby seemed not to appreciate was why Cheryl’s time with Jonathan was so significant for her.

And for all that Nick Hornby’s own writing as a novelist is peppered with musical references, the film didn’t make the most of how important music is in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir. I found that odd second time around.

Film adaptations can be a double edged thing, I guess. How do you feel about watching films based on books you love?

Rabbit, Run

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Read 05/08/2017 to 11/08/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

Rabbit, Run is the first novel in John Updike’s series about Rabbit Angstrom, an unlikeable man in his mid-twenties who is suffering an existential crisis. He lurches from selfish act to selfish act, abandoning his pregnant wife and two year old son, taking up with an escort, playing golf with the local minister, and all the while bemoaning the fact that he hasn’t achieved anything since his high school basketball team. He has no self-awareness, no interest in other people, and is almost a parody embodiment of the male condition.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a number of years. I bought it because I’d never read any Updike, and he’s a Pulitzer prize winner twice over, so there must be something about him. Recently, though, I’ve read a few reviews and comments on social media written by women excoriating him for his misogyny. Passages that have been quoted show a man who lacks the desire to see women as anything other than objects in the lives of his male protagonists, objects that are a source of irritation and a receptacle for loathing.

As I took in these opinions and comments, I knew that I had Rabbit, Run coming up as one of my Road Trip Challenge reads. I don’t like to knee-jerk to others’ opinions, even when I respect the people giving those opinions, but part of me felt I shouldn’t read the book, knowing that I was approaching it with an expectation that bordered on prejudice against Updike, and that it would likely raise my hackles. Another part of me felt that this wasn’t giving me the chance to experience Updike on my own terms, that I should put the opinions of others to one side and approach the book without preconceived ideas. Continue reading

That Old Ace in the Hole

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Read 28/07/2017-05/08/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

Bob Dollar is the hero of That Old Ace in the Hole, a hero in the mould of Jim Dixon in Lucky Jim. Aged 25, Bob is unsure about what it is he wants to do in life. After graduating from college, and unable to afford to continue his studies at university, he ends up working for Global Pork Rind as a scout for hog farm locations in the Texas-Oklahoma panhandle. From the beginning, the book has an undercurrent of farce.

Bob reads widely, knows the meaning of a lot of words, and was a good student, but he seems to lack practical intelligence.

… he knew nothing of hogs beyond the fact that they were, mysteriously, the source of bacon.

He is tasked with scouting for locations without letting local residents and businesses know that this is what he is doing. What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

Ruby

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Read 22/07/2017-28/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I bought Ruby a while ago, when it was in the running for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. When I hit Texas in the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge, its turn to be read finally came.

It’s a story about love and hate, a tale about trying to escape the memories of a place steeped in wrong-doing, where things that happened in childhood form who people are as adults. The place is called Liberty, but there is little that is free about it.

Ruby Bell returns to Liberty from New York City in 1963. She is a glamorous and self-confident woman who attracts the attention of the men who sit and smoke and talk outside the P & K Market. She becomes the subject of ribald gossip and cautionary tales about the dangers of travel and the consequences of sin. Over time she descends into madness. Her appearance changes, she is distracted and reclusive, and most of the people in Liberty avoid her. Apart from one man, Ephram Jennings. Nobody in Liberty looks at Ephram. Nobody notices him except for Ruby.

There will be mild spoilers in this review, but it was difficult to describe it without referring to key plot points. Continue reading

The Pelican Brief

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Read 20/07/2017-22/07/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

Every so often, because a lot of what I read can be classed as literary fiction and requires concentration, since it often draws on a wider literary context, I need to read what I think of as easy reading. Quite often, this takes the form of crime novels or thrillers, occasionally family sagas. Popular rather than literary fiction, the type of book you can pick up in a WHSmith shop at a train station or airport. I love this sort of fiction because it employs different skills. The author has to be able to hook the reader in quickly and maintain pace and human interest throughout the story.

The Pelican Brief is one of those books. Continue reading

Never Any End to Paris

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Read 17/07/2017-20/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Read Around the World Challenge: Spain

The Enrique Vila-Matas of Never Any End to Paris, who both is and isn’t the novelist Enrique Vila-Matas, is convinced that he grows to resemble Ernest Hemingway more every day. Nobody else agrees with him, least of all his wife, most of all the organisers of a Hemingway Lookalike contest in Key West. Like the novelist, the book’s Vila-Matas has been obsessed with Hemingway since he read A Moveable Feast as a teenager. In his 20s, he moved to Paris to try to absorb some of what inspired Hemingway. Never Any End to Paris is Vila-Matas looking back on those youthful days. Continue reading

Southern Cross the Dog

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Read 15/07/2017-17/07/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

1927: a devastating flood changes lives in Mississippi. Eight year old Robert Chatham, his father Ellis and mother Etta, are driven from their home by the rising flood waters. They start to wade towards higher ground, an exhausting process that is only partially alleviated when a man in a rowing boat picks them up. He sets Ellis to the task of rowing and takes from them their few belongings. He delivers them to an aid camp, where Ellis argues with the guards trying to keep order and we are left not knowing what will happen to them next.

1932: a prison farm for black prisoners. Eli Cutter is serving time for manslaughter, but is about to be set free by a man who wants to set up a travelling musical show. Eli is a skilled keyboard player, piano or organ, a blues player of renown. Augustus Duke wants Eli for his troupe, enough to buy his freedom.

So begins Southern Cross the Dog, a meandering tale of life on the edges in Mississippi. Continue reading