Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Help - smashing through roadblocks

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Fig Tree: 2009). The story of Jackson Mississippi in 1962, where the race lines were still very clearly drawn. It focuses on the black home help that most of the white community employed, portraying both the brutal and the heart warming sides.  
There are a lot of reasons (good and bad) why I should not like this book. So many in fact, I’m going to use bullet points to take you through just a few of them (that’s right, bullet points on a Sunday, I bet you thought I wouldn’t go there. Well, I did).
·         Tons of people I know have read it and love it (including my wife). This means taking on a massive risk – what happens if I read it, don’t like it, and have to say so on this here blog? Arguments, that’s what.
·         It’s about a pretty over done topic. It’s essentially a civil rights book. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s a wonderful and vital thing. Just a thing that’s been done a few times before. It’s the same reason I try to avoid WWII books now. I’ve heard that story before.
·         It’s full of accented speech. Again, not a bad thing in its own right, just a very difficult thing to write in a way that doesn’t become incredibly hard work to read.
I’ll stop at three; the bullet points are making me feel nauseous.
So I was fairly resolved not to read this. But then I realised I write a blog about books now, and one of the big motivators behind it is to read stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily. Broaden the old horizons a little. And sometimes that means reading the multi-million bestselling, Hollywood blockbusting, talk of the masses book.
All of which, thankfully, gets left behind as soon as you start reading this. Books frequently have the ability to make you forget that they’re being read by millions of others. Make you forget that they drive mega entertainment industries. Make you forget that they’re at the core of smash hit movies. Make you forget that they’re in any way commercial at all.
Good books grab you and speak with you and make you feel the only things in the room are you and it.
And so it is with The Help. Every roadblock I threw up to liking this book was driven through within a couple of chapters. And it was for no other reason than it was just incredibly well written. This is an easy book to sink into. It presents a world and people in it that you quickly become familiar with, and one in which you’re quite happy to live in for long periods of time.
Whilst driving through the roadblocks I’d put up for it though, the book picked up a few new scratches along the way. It centres on three core characters, and hops between them throughout the book. It’s a structure that was quite fun to begin with, but as it went on, the lines between the characters started to blur, and the constant hopping between their perspectives didn’t so much keep the story sharp as it frustrated any sense of continuity.
Also, the overarching plot began to drag a little. And if there’s one thing that can ruin an otherwise great book, it’s a draggy plot.
None of the scratches obscured what I liked about the book too much though. It’s hugely enjoyable to read. And it’s rich as well. There are so many little spirals, little strands of storyline, little insights to different parts of the community and the different lives in it. I can’t decide if the fact that they’re put together in a bit of a chaotic way is a good thing or a bad thing, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed reading them.
Which I is the whole point of this blog. I said at the start that I wasn’t going to judge whether books were “good” or not. “Good” has far too many ways to be interpreted. Instead, it’s all about was the book “enjoyable”. Is it worth your time? Will it be more fun than whatever’s on telly?
Yes on all counts.
Very very good, but not brilliant. It forced me to get past the reasons why I thought I wouldn’t like it. I enjoyed living with it for a couple of weeks, and I always picked it up with relish. But I probably won’t look at it fondly on my bookshelf. And I probably won’t go see the film.
Next week, the second horror story of the year for GBR.

No comments: