I have been reading…Alan Bennett

I have been reading very much as usual, but I haven’t been writing about it. Don’t ask me why, it’s just one of those things that happens every now and then. I stop writing for a while. Anyway, I’m reading rather a special book at the moment, Untold Stories by Alan Bennett. I started this year by re-reading The Uncommon Reader (also by Alan Bennett) and I enjoyed it every bit as much I did the first time I had read it.

So I went looking for the rest of his books. I had put The History Boys on my TBR list, but I hadn’t bought it yet. So I did. I bought the physical book and it is still on its way. In the mean time I watched the movie with my husband and we both loved it. It is such a wonderful story and told so well. I wish I could have seen the play, but at least I got to see the movie.

The History Boys_movie_poster

This is one of those instances when I’m glad I saw the movie before I read the book because it is a play, not a novel and considering the number of characters and their somewhat complex motivations, it is good to have faces and personalities in my head already. It’ll make the reading go easier. I already love the characters and I know them, so I don’t have to build them up in my head from the text.

Now I usually prefer coming to a book knowing nothing more than its premise and I like to build the characters up in my head without having actors over-shadow them. And I’d rather not have a director’s point of view imposed on the book, but this is an exceptional instance, because the characters are all cast so well and they bring an interpretation to their roles and to the situations which enriches the movie. And it helps that the entire cast of the film is the cast of the original play.

According to Alan Bennett, the director, Nicholas Hytner was involved in the play when it was still being edited, so it owes its final form to both of them. And it shows in the movie. The director owns it just as much as the writer. But now I want to read the book because this play is about words, language, literature and history as much as it is about the story and the characters in it. And wonderful as the movie is, the acting as well as the visuals tend to overshadow the words. And now I want the words on the page as written.

The History Boys is one of those rare things, a book of ideas interwoven into what is rather a beautiful story. It is funny and poignant and thoughtful and so much more than I can possibly express here. I realise that I haven’t said anything much about the story, but that is only because I want to write a proper review once I’ve read the play. In the meantime, I will go back to Untold Stories which is a memoir and enjoy more of Mr Bennett’s peerless prose.

Movie Review : The Martian

The Martian Launch One Sheet

I have never done a movie review here on this blog (it is meant to be a book blog, after all), but this is a movie based on a book, The Martian by Andy Weir, which is one of the best science fiction books that I have ever read. I have been raving about the book and waiting for the movie for months, so now that I have finally seen it, I can’t not talk about it. I’m not going to go into any detail about the story because I have already done that in my review of the book which you can find here.

Was the movie worth the wait? Not quite, but I’m glad I saw it. The book was excellent and very visual. The descriptions and the the settings were so vivid, that I could see it all playing out in my head as I read the book. So the movie had to be spectacular to impress. And it was, it was quite a visual spectacle and the huge Martian vistas were a joy to see as were the scenes shot inside the space-ship and the final scenes shot in space, just above Mars.

But the best feature of the book, was the science in it. The entire story is a problem solving exercise…one situation after another that the protagonist (and the other characters, to some extent) have to face and find a way through, using their knowledge of science and combining it with a fair bit of ingenuity, courage and recklessness. The recklessness comes through in the movie, but the science doesn’t.

Nearly half of the book is written in the form of a log, a diary if you will, in which Mark Watney (the protagonist) talks about each new situation that he finds himself in. Then he explains exactly what he’s going to do to get out of that situation and why. That adds a certain immediacy to the book which the movie tries to mimic, with Watney doing a video log and talking to the camera.

This works, but the dialogue in the movie, perhaps inevitably, lacks the amount of detail you get in the book. This detail is what makes the book so realistic. It shows you the sheer scale of the problems that Watney faces and the extent of ingenuity, courage and almost pigheaded determination that he displays and this is what has you cheering for him.

Everything in the movie looked a little too easy, to be honest. You don’t see or feel the struggle and the frustration that Watney has to go through to solve each problem. The book and the movie span a period of nearly 600 days. The passage of time is gradual in the book, but it is a bit rushed through in the movie. Also the movie is missing a couple of major sequences from the book, which is a feature of most movies made from books so I won’t complain about that.

The movie does not do justice to the book, but that does not make it a bad movie. The Martian is a good movie and you can enjoy it by itself, though I suspect there are things you simply won’t understand if you haven’t read the book. But not understanding a few things here and there won’t keep you from enjoying the movie. The visuals alone are entirely worth a trip to the theatre.

And then there’s the cast…the casting is spot on. Every actor suits the character that they have been chosen to play and they all do justice to their roles, particularly Matt Damon who plays the lead. I was sceptical about Matt Damon when I first heard about the casting. I couldn’t see him as Mark Watney, but he made me change my mind. He had to carry quite a bit of the movie all by himself and I think he did it very well.

So, go see the movie.  If you like a good story, you will enjoy it. But read the book as well, because it is vastly better than the movie.