The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

Image

As kids we were always told to read the book before watching the movie, that the book was always better. As an adult, I would definitely argue that there are some cases when the movie is better than the book. A potboiler of a book can be turned into a thrilling film, whereas an amazing book can be slush as a movie. Who knows, maybe somebody will make a half decent movie of the atrocious ‘Last Snow’. However I would still hold that it’s usually better to read the book before the movie, if you plan on reading the book at all. Not that this stops me from reading books after I’ve seen a movie I’ve enjoyed. A good book should still hold up even if you know what’s going to happen.

Speaking of which, I’ve seen ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ before in the Gate in Dublin, it seemed very timely as it was the week Elizabeth Taylor had died. I had booked an impromptu visit home, back in that first year when flights were cheap. That day I’d already been to see Dun Laoghaire Musical Society’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar and felt the pang of not being part of it. I saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, had some drinks with my friends, then took the last DART to Dalkey to join the all night DMDS after show party. We all enjoyed the show; though some of the girls thought the lead actress was overusing the catlike gestures to drive home the title. It didn’t bother me, but then I’ve already said I’m not a great critic.

There was a show on in Estepona for World Theatre Day. It was free in until the hall was full. I arrived at the dot of eight, but it was already ‘sold out’. I suppose I didn’t mind because I’ve seen it already, though seeing a different production of a play is nothing like seeing a film or reading a book twice. And I haven’t really been to the theatre in Spain. I’ve been to flamenco, tango, classical music shows, but theatre in a foreign language is always scary and usually I do go to see something where I already know the story. I saw one of my favourite plays ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in Russian in Minsk (and my husband saw it years ago in German in Aachen). On a trip to Paris I noticed a poster for a dramatisation of ‘Someone I loved’ by Anna Gavalda. D doesn’t speak French and mine is all but lost, but that book had really struck a chord with me and I was able to understand it more or less from memory.

With films I generally go to see movies in Spanish that I really don’t care too much about. If it’s a film I really want to see I’d prefer to see it in English (or with subtitles if it’s another language) before watching again dubbed in Spanish. So last Sunday I was all prepared to go watch The Lego Movie (which I’ve heard is ‘awesome’ but I think I could have enjoyed just fine in Spanish) but D’s cycling buddies persuaded us to join them and watch the latest Spanish comedy ‘Ocho apellidos vascos’. You would think that a brainless comedy is the easiest thing to watch in another language, but actually drama is much easier. So many fewer words! So we wandered about a deserted La Cañada Schlaraffenland-style (ok I googled that, I remembered it as Paradise Mall), had a coffee or two, checked out those auto-massage chairs (fabulous) and then finally it was time. After adjusting in the first few minutes to the mixture of Basque and Andalucian Spanish I enjoyed it. It was a silly comedy but sometimes that’s what you need. People often think American Film=dumb, European Film= heavy, intense, arty, but really it’s a lot to do with which European films get sold to the wider market. I remember thinking this way back in Germany in 2000, watching a little film called ‘Im Juli’, which I’m not sure ever got a release in Ireland, but which I returned to again and again over the years. Sometimes a movie doesn’t have to have any deeper meaning, it’s just to entertain. ‘Ocho apellidos vascos’ was no classic but if I do manage to watch with subtitles I would be interested in understanding the half I missed!

Image

I don’t really mind that I missed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this time round. I headed towards the centre of Estepona and stumbled upon some gorgeous streets I’d never passed before. I really do love this town and I’m amazed at how I could ever dislike it, though if you do just pass it on the A7 motorway or not cross the Avenida de Andalucia into the centre you can be forgiven, as it doesn’t look up to much. I was in an area that felt totally Spanish, music blaring from houses, kids calling across the streets, doors open, grandmothers saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘take care’ to each other after their evening stroll. I got slightly disoriented, passed another of the recent town murals and finally came across a church I recognised and followed down to the Plaza de las Flores, taking note of a fancy new restaurant which was not there before and assuming from the grey heads that it’s probably out of my price range. I walked down Calle Real in the direction of Plaza Ortiz, past the tapas bar owned by the family of D’s physio, saw that it was empty and made a mental note that we need to go there again soon. The street became quieter, a transition zone with some fast food joints, then a new square with the beginning of another mural, it seems, then the more generic chic European cafe bars and then Plaza Ortiz itself, where Tolone seems to be carrying out some works and the fountain is pleasantly murmuring.

Image

I started watching ‘The Help’ one afternoon last year. If I had asked my husband to join me he would have scoffed, but he sat beside me after about 20 minutes without my even suggesting it. Do you need me to tell you that I cried at the end? I know this sounds like I do it all the time, but I don’t really. I had to lie and say that I cried at Titanic when I was 17 until I began to realise that there was no shame in not succumbing. Unlike many of my friends I’ve watched The Notebook only once and I thought my friend was sharing my cynicism until I saw the tears falling down her face and I wondered if there was something wrong with me. But if you ask my husband he’ll probably tell you I cry at the drop of a hat.

Anyway, I cried at the end of The Help and later I thought ‘I must really read that book some time.’ Then I saw it at home in Skerries a few months ago and onto the list it went. But being honest, I think the film spoiled it for me. There is so little that differentiates it from the book. At first I did appreciate that Skeeter did not seem as goody goody at the start as in the film. She was friendly to Aibileen but still did not see much wrong with how her friends acted.

As I read on, so many details seemed identical to the film and I was rushing through to get to the end, even though I knew what would happen there too. Also, as with the film, I really didn’t get the character of Celia Foote. What was the point of her really? She did not seem to be a character in her own right, she was just somebody for other people to react to. The other ‘ladies’ seemed exactly as two dimensionally evil as they had in the film.

It’s true, there are some racists in this town’ says one of the ladies, seemingly believing that she isn’t one of them. I remember when I was in school it was common knowledge that there was no such thing as racism in Ireland. This may have been the case because there were so few foreigners of any ethnicity. Ireland was a country you emigrated from, not a place you immigrated to. Of course there were some, but no great number.

Image

By the late 90s you could no longer say this was the case and with the larger number of immigrants unfortunately also the number of racist incidents increased. And once the economy started to collapse that increased even more.

Ireland does not have much of a history of nannies. Up until the last few decades most women did not work outside of the home. In fact up until we joined the EU women in public service had to give up their jobs after they got married. Most immigrants today are from EU countries so there no limits on where they can work. However immigrants from other parts of the world often end up doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do, the au pairing, the cleaning, looking after the elderly and in many cases are treated really badly. If their legal situation is not clear they can often be treated like slaves by their employers. I would like to think that this is mostly the exception, but you hear some shocking stories.

I think it would be a shame if people read a book like this and simply thought, ‘oh how awful those Southern girls were to their maids back in the 60s!’ without thinking, ‘does this not apply to us here as well? Is there something I’ve been doing that in years to come people will equate how Hilly treated Aibileen, Yule May and the others? I don’t think I am entirely innocent. Sometimes when you pay somebody for a service, pay them ‘the going rate’ you think it entitles you to act a certain way towards them, maybe it’s subconsciously, but even so. And it does good to become self-aware and stop yourself and a book like this can help.

I did like the little details too. The jobs ads are sorted by male (accountants, loan officers) and female (salesgirls, secretaries) and when there is the odd overlap the men are offered more. We have come a long way for sure, today’s gender discrimination has to be a lot more subtle.

Overall it’s touching story, but maybe read before watching the movie, so that you experience it properly.

(On the other hand I really enjoyed Game of Thrones last night and I think I preferred not knowing in advance what was going to happen. I’ve already said that I’m not rushing into reading the next Game of Thrones book but that I’ll probably get there eventually. But from what I’ve read of those books so far I’m really not convinced that I will enjoy reading them and being surprised by them as much as being surprised by the TV series.)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s