Monday, February 12, 2007

Book 2: About A Boy

By Nick Hornby

Like High Fidelity, the only other Hornby book I've read & reviewed, I'd already seen the movie adaptation first. And like High Fidelity, I quite enjoyed reading About a Boy too, and couldn’t help thinking what a good job the filmmakers (the Weitz brothers) did in capturing the spirit and humour of the original novel. And again, like Hi Fi, reading the book was like picturing the movie all over again (and I didn’t have to convert American accents to British ones!)

A surprise treat was that the ending of the novel was completely different from the movie version. Instead of the school music concert where the boy, Marcus, performed a wincingly painful a capella rendition of “Killing Me Softly” for his suicidal mum, Marcus and his rebellious friend Ellie embark on an ill-fated train trip to visit his Dad. This culminates in a rather farcical situation which has all the adult characters gathered at a police station of a small town to retrieve their troublesome kids.

In some ways, I prefered the final act of the movie version, since it focused exclusively on the relationship dynamic of the three main characters: Wil, the boy Marcus, and his mother Fiona. And to be honest, it also had more of a comedic and dramatic arc (better for a Hollywood movie I guess). On the other hand, the novel’s ending involved several side characters and took place in a completely new setting, which seemed to dilute the story arc and relationship focus between Wil, Marcus and Fiona.

In any case, it was still a treat to read Hornby’s novel from beginning to end. About A Boy wasn’t as cleverly sardonic as High Fidelity, but nevertheless, it had better character development and an actual narrative with the “just right” touching moments you’d expect from a man-boy buddy story, without the sentimental clich├ęs.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Book 1: Running With Scissors

By Augusten Burroughs

Needed something light for the flight home from my Xmas holiday in Vancouver. So at Lawrence’s used bookstore, I picked up this “hilarious childhood memoir” that has adorned the NYTs bestsellers list and been made into a Hollywood movie (which I heard had made some critic’s list of the one of the Worst Movies of 2006). Despite that, the book ended up being quite enjoyable, and helped pass a good chunk of my 5+ hour flight.

Burroughs grew up in small-town Massachusetts with a distant, alcoholic father and a crackpot mother with delusions of poetic grandeur. His parents inevitably divorced, and in the turmoil, he got legally adopted by his mother’s psychiatrist, the highly unorthodox Dr Finch, who may or may not be as deranged as some of his patients, if not more.

Thus the 12-year-old journal-keeping Burroughs came to live in the disorderly, dilapidated Victorian mansion with Dr Finch’s bizarre family comprised of his wife, two daughters, an absent adopted son, and an obsessive-compulsive patient who has never left her guest room since she stepped in two years previous.

Yup, “Running with Scissors” felt very much like a Wes Anderson film with some “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” thrown in. You can see why Hollywood wanted to adapt this, as the cast of colourful characters ranged from the charmingly eccentric to the psychotically bananas. At times, it was a little hard to believe that every significant person in the author’s young life was some sort of unconventional oddball or nutcase. Even if some of the events were slightly exaggerated, still, you can’t make up some of the shit that went down in the Finch household (no pun intended).

The memoir covered a span of 4 years or so and comprised of very selective, yet cohesively narrative, vignettes. The tone was always kept somewhat light and casual, so you never felt like you could really get inside the author’s head of how it must have felt to have insanity rip your family apart.

Interestingly, Burroughs barely went to high school, but you can recognize that he nevertheless had a natural flair for writing and a sardonic wit. His editors must have had a field day correcting his spelling and grammar (why bother with learning such mundane things at school when you’re growing up in such a surreally entertaining environment). Although "Running With Scissors" didn’t exactly explore the depths of human emotions, it was ultimately a very good read with some touching, memorable moments.