Saturday, 5 February 2011

I watched a film, I read a book,and I'm out of step with the critics.

Life, on a scale of stresses, one to six, where one is not very much stress, and six is absolutely too much....  currently the stress reading is at about fifteen, the safety gauge is screwed down tight, and steam is leaking at the seams. Healthwise, not so good either, and my doctor says "Avoid stress", then laughs, because she's stressed too.
My mother's condition is going rapidly downhill,  and I regularly get calls from the alarm monitoring centre, and drop everything, rush over to find she's fallen, can't get up.
She seems to be getting good at whacking her head on some random hard object as she goes too. She won't eat enough, so she gets weaker, then her balance gets worse.... it's all a downward spiral. Her memory is falling apart faster and faster. My brother has at last stepped up to take a bit of the load, and my sister's just been and stayed a week with her, which gave me several nights of uninterrupted sleep. Until the five a.m. ambulance call.

So it's nice to just do nothing. I picked up Audrey Niffenegger's second novel "Her Fearful Symmetry" (first one was "The Time Traveller's Wife") in a secondhand bookstore this morning, and enjoyed the luxury of sitting down to read, with nobody demanding my time. Well, there's always something else I really ought to be doing, but today I sat down to read, and read I did, until I ran out of book, 485 pages later, I enjoyed it.  I even recommend it. The Amazonites tend to give it a bit of a poor grade. Well, to hell with them, I say. It entertained me for about three whole hours, so it can't be all bad.
If you read "The Time Traveller's Wife", you'd know it wasn't likely to be a simple, straightforward, single-string story.  And story it is, that's all, it doesn't need to be overanalysed and searched for hidden allegory. Just a story. With a ghost.
I'll rate it as five stars.

P.s. (a later addition). I wanted to link to the book, so, of course, I ended up reading reviews. now, reviews always interest me, because I contrast them with my own experience. I didn't link to the publisher's or the author's blurb, because, hey, what's a publisher going to say about a product it's trying to sell? Or what's an author going to say?
So that leads us to Amazon and other sites where reviewers can say good or bad.
Now, my problem, if I try to tell you how I felt about the book, is that I can't do that without perhaps  revealing things you need to find out for yourself.
Elsewhere, I recently read someone's thoughts on movie trailers. How in the past, a trailer's purpose was to intrigue you with glimpses and hints, so you just had to see the movie and find out what it was about, but now, the trailer seems to be a pastiche of all the  major scenes, the best and the brightest, so when you go see the movie... there's nothing left. You've already seen the bits that are exciting, and so it feels as if you're just sitting through the b-grade stuff that wasn't good enough for the trailer.
That's how it can be with book reviews too.
Here's the spoiler: twins, ghosts, and a cemetery. So there.
It seem that readers and reviewers are complaining that parts of the plot were far-fetched and hard to believe. What a surprise. The author's previous book was called "The Time Traveller's Wife". Even if you have not read it, nor seen the movie, you can not buy the current tome without being exposed to the blurb about its predecessor.
So if you expect "Her Fearful Symmetry" to be thoroughly true to everyday reality, then I'd say you're pretty stupid. People  complain about characters' behaviour, about the various denouements, say "Well that's unlikely, people just wouldn't really do that." Well, in my experience, people in real life do all sorts of bizarre things that seem illogical and make no sense. That's actually not magic reality, it's real life. Sometimes people will do unpredicted things, and there will be no explanation. That's just how it is. Why then must we expect an author to explain everything, to leave us sure of the reasons for each character's actions?
Why should we expect a tidy ending? Do we really need an Agatha Christie-like scene at the end where all the characters are gathered together in the drawing-room of a country house, and a some detective genius walks us through all the clues we should have picked up earlier in the book, and explains why each character behaved in the way they did? Do we need a happy ending?
I'll say, for my part, that I write, in my mind, as I read books, alternative scenarios. This book was no exception. I'd have liked characters to behave differently, make different decisions. I'd like to be able to step in there, part way along, and nudge things in a different direction. But this was Audrey Niffenegger's book, not mine, she gets to call the shots, and I read them and have to accept her direction. If I want a book where all the characters behave in a way I like, where the plot develops as I wish, I'll have to write it myself.
Until then, I'm reading other people's stories, and should respect their choices. I can like or dislike it, but I have no right to say "She should have....".
Just like I read blogs. Even my favourite bloggers post things I won't like, and I'll post things my readers won't like.
If you don't like it, spit it out, go get something else.

I also watched The Social Network. Now that was a waste of my time. I'm still no wiser as to Facebook's
I assume the people involved in making it thought the movie to be a worthy task.
IMDB gives it 8.2 out of ten stars. The reviews there make me wonder if I watched the same thing. To me it was just a collage of cliched scenes that we've all seen before in oh so many other movies, put together to tell another story we've heard before, student geek gets dotcom idea, abuses friendships on the way, picks up sharks and sucker fish, ends up rich but sad.
Thought provoking? No. Emotionally charged? No. A visual treat? No. Great drama? No.

I also spent a while watching a river today, watching brown floodwater slide over a weir, and roil in chaos. That time was better used.

If you watched this movie and judged your time and money well spent, please do tell me why.


  1. "Her Fearful Symmetry" is on my "to read" list. I read "The Time Traveller's Wife" while sitting on the verandah of a hotel in Tadoussac, Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence River. When I think about the book I'm reminded of the sun and the fresher than fresh air. I couldn't put the book down until I ran out of pages. As for the FB film, I think the majority of viewers are too young to recognize a cliche when they see one; that's a skill we develop with age. I can spot a cliche 10 kilometers away which gives you an indication of how old I am.

  2. I used to read and I find it difficult to have my interest captivated by a book. Sad.

    Good to hear your family is pulling together more.

  3. Funny you should mention this about ratings and reviews. Ever since Victoria Hislop's The Island, I never trust the reviews in magazines or newspapers - always written by fellow authors. I've never read such drivel as The Island on what could and should have been an interesting subject.

    For Amazon, I normally discount anything fewer than 10 ratings and then they need to have over 3.5* average. Maybe I'm being unduly harsh but The Island got 3.5* so that's my cut off point.

    Have you read The Help by Katherine Stockett? 450+ ratings and 5* average. So I bought it and didn't regret it.

    I haven't tried "Her Fearful Symmetry" but on your recommendation, I will.

  4. hi soub, sorry to hear about your mom, i imagine your stress level is beyond your control. if i compartmentalize your situation and simply think about the idea of going off somewhere and reading a book, i get chills about what a wonderfully luxurious day it would be. as far as the reviews on amazon and, now the internet as a whole, i'm afraid the system's been ruined. ever since i saw this disturbing video...

    it wouldn't surprise me that the book's bad review are somehow related to there being a ghost.

  5. okay. you've convinced me to give "Her Fearful Symmetry" another chance. Possibly I'm reacting to Elspeth's unscrupulous character vs. Valentina's need to please issues. Maybe I should READ this one rather than listen to it on tape. My bad. Thanks for the review.

  6. Nag:
    Do, please, read it and report. I'll be interested by how other readers interpret it, how they see the dynamics between the characters, the motivations and the moralities.
    That's a six-mile cliche-sighting ability in my world. I wonder if you can get longer range cliche-sighting equipment?
    I like your association of the book with that sunny verandah. That's a great image.

    gz: but you go to Hay-on-Wye! How can you not be reading? Okay, you said a while ago that you were decluttering and selling books, but... not reading? I just can't imagine going even a week without books to read.

    A: See the comment above, to the Nag, please report back after reading!
    I agree, reviews are all too often unhelpful, being by authors who are either jealous, disparaging, or sycophantic. I'd rather read the book first then the review. Phthuie!

    Jim! That link was scary. I suppose it's no surprise that the loons are trying to control the internet, they probably think they're saving us from our misled ways too.

  7. RDG, I look forward to further discussions.....
    I don't think an audio-book works in the same way. You tend to miss bits, can't stop and turn back a page to clarify, and of course, the reader/narrator must affect and alter the feeling, just by pace, tone of voice, phrasing.
    Whereas in reading, you yourself are in control, a participant, not a bystander.
    I think you're prone to judge characters quite early, I think maybe I'm more forgiving.
    Give them another chance, I think, in reading, I try to put myself in each character, try to see the world through their eyes, try to understand their choices. But in the end, it's just a story, it's just pretend, not real, all in Ms. Niffynegg's imagination.

  8. I'm listening to it again. So far, so good, but I DO have an Elspeth attitude. Nothing wrong with having a definite opinion - I enjoy arguing my point of view!


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