I have difficulties with films of books, so I don’t often watch them. I’m usually thinking as I’m watching – ‘it’s not like that in the book’ and irritated when the story is changed, parts are missed out or even worse new scenes/characters added in.
One of the books I’ll be reading in the coming weeks is The Help by Kathryn Stockett (our local book group choice for January). I noticed the film was on at our local cinema and with some reservations decided to see it. I thought that if I saw the film first it might not spoil my appreciation of the book. The book is described on the back cover as
Outstanding, immensely funny, very compelling, brilliant. (Daily Telegraph)
Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver …
I can’t be that good, I thought, normally I wouldn’t read a book with so much hype.
We went last night – in a howling gale! I was completely wrong in my expectations – the film was that good! I just hope the book can live up to it. The audience laughed, and then sighed at the poignant moments as the film rolled on and even if I couldn’t quite catch all the words I thought it was brilliant. It’s essentially a female, domestic look at segregation, with brief glimpses of the contemporary political scene.
I was engrossed in the film and now just want to read the book. So much so that I got it off the bookshelf when I got home and began to read it. Actually I began at the back with Too Little, Too Late – Kathryn Stockett, in her own words, in which she writes about her upbringing and personal experiences. She writes that The Help is ‘by and large fiction’ and wondered what her family and Demetrie, their maid would think of it:
I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person. I was afraid that I would fail to describe a relationship that was so intensely influential in my life, so loving, so grossly stereotyped in American history and literature. …
Regarding the lines between black and white women, I am afraid I have told too much. I was taught not to talk about such uncomfortable things, that it was tacky, impolite, they might hear us.
I am afraid I have told too little. Not just that life was so much worse for many black women working in the homes in Mississippi, but also that there was so much more love between white families and black domestics than I had the ink or time to portray. (pages 450 -451)
She doesn’t presume to know what is felt like to be a black woman in that place at that time, but thinks
… trying to understand is vital to our humanity.
From my perspective I think she has achieved that.