Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On Procrastination, and pondering what makes Notes On a Scandal 'literary'.

I am so behind on reviewing books, that I have rather developed a guilt complex towards it. One that makes me feel like hiding behind bushes, or creeping around with a paper bag on my head in case anyone recognizes how much of a procrastinator I am or want to remind me that I have several reviews on my to-do-list that have been there for quite a while.

The trick I think, for future reference, is not to actually claim that I'm going to do such and such until after I have done it. The trick is to not try to take on so many books that I want review, and then feel overwhelmed because really its been a month, and I can't remember exactly what I wanted to say except cliched things like "fantastic, a mixture of the [insert great literary author name] and [insert another great literary author]", etc.

Of course I promptly ignore my own advice, and decide, to in fact write a entry about my procrastination therefore calling attention to the fact that I haven't really written many reviews lately, and also in doing so, promise once again, that I will get those reviews written very very soon.

Which really brings me to the point of today's post, my thoughts on What Was She Thinking: [Notes On A Scandal] - Zoe Heller. As many of you know the novel was made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench very recently. Those of you who are waiting to get your hands on the book after seeing the movie may be a little disappointed, since the book proves to be a very much watered-down version of what you see on screen.

In the novel, Judi Dench's character, Barbara is not so much a manipulative, controlling she-demon, as she is a pathetic middle-aged spinster who has very nasty and opinionated thoughts about most of the people in her life. While there were some lesbian undertones in her character towards Cate Blanchett's Sheba , I felt the book version of Barbara wanted what Sheba has: youth, beauty, people that adored her, and most essentially human companionship, more than a relationship with Sheba. The book is a study of loneliness, and the human desire to be loved and wanted by others.

Interestingly enough, Babara of the book reminds me distinctly of the character, Amelia, from Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. While Judi Dench's version of Babara can be horrifying to watch, the book Barbara inspires more feelings of pity than loathing. The book and movie differ in this aspect.

Having said that, I'm not so sure that I would prefer the book over the movie. I certainly think that the words 'literary thriller', as touted by the back cover, is a stretch.

While I had no problems with the book as it is written (it tells the story in a straightforward Bridget Jonesy type narrative), I'm not sure exactly why critics found this book stellar in comparison to others. Critics have made claims that this novel is an intense study of psychological and emotional complexity but half way through the novel, I began to wonder if I was reading the same book as those people.

Admittedly the novel does tackle taboo and slightly sinister issues, and yes it uses an unreliable narrative.

But that's it.

There seems very little that is complex about the story or how it is told once we figure out that Barbara is a shaky narrator with very delusional, and needy personality and that Sheba is just the self-absorbed counterpart who feeds on Babara's attention as Babara feeds on her.

Some critics have also mentioned that the novel is darkly comic, but I found this gives the reader a very warped sense of the story, unless we now count sarcasm in its most bitter form as comic. While the novel is an careful study of character, the story seems to function just as well on screen as it does in words. Certainly I felt the story (in the novel) was told just as simply if only more subtlety in comparison to the movie

Although I did not find this novel to be bad, I can not help but be disappointed with the critical assessment which lead me to believe that I was going to read a much better and more interesting novel than this. Overall a disappointment, especially considering the quality and inventiveness of the books that I have recently been reading.

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