You’ll be glad to hear that for once I didn’t open this week’s book up to discover that I had already watched the film! In fact the strong characterisations that Kathryn Stockett successfully employes created such vivid imagery in my mind that I was compelled to watch the film straight after. But what have I always said…?
It definitely holds true. The film didn’t do a bad job but the book was such a sterling account by itself that I didn’t really need the film to supplement it. Nice enough way to spend an evening though, if you are so inclined.
‘The Help’ is told through the voices of three characters in 1963 Mississippi. Two black maid’s, Aibeleen and Minny; as well as a young white woman called Skeeter. Whilst ostensibly living very different lives these three women come to form an unlikely alliance when Skeeter, an aspiring writer, hits upon the idea of interviewing black maids and putting together a book of their experiences.
1960’s Mississipi however is not the most progressive place. Skeeter and anyone who follows her are treading a treacherous path. Black people have to sit separately in buses, they have to use separate bathrooms and intermarriage between blacks and white’s is illegal. The consequences for crossing these lines can result in becoming prey to lynch mobs, if you’re lucky you may have your tongue cut out, if you’re unlucky you could be killed. If, as a black person you were murdered by these mobs you could be pretty sure that there wouldn’t be much in the way of justice for you. I must say that despite all this, the general tone of this book is optimistic, but it depressed me to think that people were being treated like this almost within my own lifetime. Whenever someone made some modern day reference to cars or hoovers I was like ‘Oh yeah, this isn’t the early 19th century…they’re not actually slaves…’ It was easy to forget.
Don’t let my morose take on the social situation put you off however, this book is about the lives these three women lead. Skeeter’s struggle to fit in and get a man despite her towering, unladylike height and frizzy hair that her overbearing mother is always fighting to tame; Aibeleen’s love for the white children that she tends to who she knows will one day outgrow her and start to look at her as an employee; and Minny, whose forthright opinions have a tendency of getting her into hot water.
This book was choco bloc with strong women. Aside from these three, there is the ferocious, ruthless Hilly who heads up every society function in town and organises regular gatherings. Hilly has a nasty streak. When Hilly decides she doesn’t like you she will move heaven and earth to make life miserable for you. Hilly’s mother has plenty to say for herself, but is altogether a much more likeable character. And then there is Skeeter’s mother who in the last stages of cancer declares ‘I have decided not to die,’ and goes right ahead into remission. That right there is the kind of determination I aspire to and these are the women I both loved and loathed through this book.
Next week, I’m reading Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Come back and check out my review on Monday.