It’s taken me all this time to watch the film of the book I enjoyed reading so much the year it was published, with its Stepford Wives’ flavour and heady swipe at the treatment of the hired help in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. Here’s Mr P’s take on the novel:
An amazing first novel, which was, ironically, rejected by 60 literary agents before acceptance. I struggled a little with the Mississippi black vernacular, but it slowly developed a rhythm and melody of its own which played well in my imagination and helped evoke believable visions of personality and character. By listening to my mind’s voice as I tackled the unfamiliar diction, it was as if my sensory perception was helping in the process of re-creating KS’s personal narrative realm. Gosh, I do sound convoluted. What would Minnie say if she read that last sentence? She probably wouldn’t say much, just collapse in a fit of laughter, no doubt.
I liked the book’s innate humanity and particularly the way it resisted the temptation to pitch everything into polar opposites, black or white, good or evil, pure or sullied. Life is more complicated than that, more nuanced, and KS was able to capture some of that ambiguity. Comedy rippled in the sunshine from time to time and tragedy loomed and receded in shadowy waves, but more than anything I felt my empathy was won over as the players struggled to get it right. And what an awful climate to have to struggle in! In a way like the subject matter: lurching from one extreme to another.
Quite agree, Mr P.
The film adaptation is also quite the treat. Like Tim, I had also had a spot of bother with the book’s use of the patois depending on who was saying what when, and confess it irked me quite a bit throughout the reading. That aside, or maybe because of it, the movie rendition just perfectly captures the essence of the book and the times it conveys: those cameo scenes with the contrast inside the kitchen and out are so well done! I really enjoyed watching this film on the small screen: the actors so perfectly convey the contrasts of the social situation of the epoch.
We get to share the belly laughs of Aibileen and Minny who are Downstairs to the various Misseys throwing their weight around Upstairs; we of course can’t help but condemn the heinous attitude of the poisonous Hilly and revel in that moment of gluttonous revenge (don’t want to spoil the story, but if you’ve read the book or seen the film you’ll of course know exactly which scene am referring to).
As a spectator, we also share the upset when we witness Skeeter’s mother’s unforgivable treatment of Constantine the maid, inevitably almost more maternal in our secret journalist’s eyes than her own mater. And let’s not forget Celia, played so well by Jessica Chastain – the working-class outcast whom the pack revile and humiliate for so long, yet who by the end of the book and film comes such a long way in no small part due to The Help afforded her by Minny the Maid. Who in turn gets to take life-changing decisions that we wouldn’t have expected at the outset. Great theatre, terrible times. Just loved it.
Mr P rating: A very likeable read: 9/10
Nicola book rating: 8/10