Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Help - thoughts on the book

"I come home that morning, after I been fired, and stood outside my house with my new work shoes on. The shoes my mama paid a month's worth a light bill for. I guess that's when I understood what shame was and the color of it too. Shame ain't black, like dirt, like I always thought it was. Shame be the color of a new white uniform your mother ironed all night to pay for, white without a smudge or a speck a work-dirt on it." 

It's very rare that you come across something so charming that the mere thought of it makes you smile. That's the response attributed to the wonderfully written 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett. I didn't have many expectations before reading this, as I understood the basic premise from seeing the movie trailers. I didn't expect it to be written in the speak of the South and so be full of such wonderful charisma and immediacy. I'm always envious of writers who can pen the sound and nuances of local language and dialect - and this is why books are so magical - they give you a window into a world and culture you would never have otherwise encountered.

All this and more helps to the make 'The Help' a real classic - there's plenty of laughs to be had (and you know they're good ones when you're chortling on the Tube or train), heaps of pathos and poignancy, all without any heavy handed author input - it's presented without overt exposition on the view points that could otherwise get too political and didactic. Instead, there's a subtler, more honest approach and there's enough variety in all the multiple POVs to give us a full flavour and wide berth, whilst stilling remaining intimate. It's always a tricky balance to get right, as there's the bigger arena of race relations in Mississippi and the South to represent (and on lesser scale all of the USA), as well as just these vignettes of the 'real' people in these closed off, behind doors situations.

I don't have anything negative to add - when I finished, I thought the author didn't 'wrap' up the story lines of Skeeter and her mum very well but in a way, as with the rest of the narrative, it was just right because the Civil Rights Movement was still underway and there was (and still is) a long way to go. I kind of respect the fact that things weren't polished off neatly - while there were small victories to be had, most of the revolutions came from within and as a result, the journey never really stops then, does it?

I highly recommend this book as a must read. It's definitely up there with all the best loved American classics. 

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