Monday, September 8, 2014

Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith (2013,2009)

First off, this book should come with a warning - it's nothing like the movie whatsoever.  The characters are the same, but it's like the movie viewed the story from a different lens.

The book was originally titled The Lost Child of Philomena Lee which is a far, far more descriptive and apt title.

It's narrative/literary/creative nonfiction, reads sort of like an extra long piece of longform journalism.  The dialogue is wooden and sometimes atrocious.  Because it's narrative nonfiction, we get to see people's thoughts and hear their intimate conversations with other people, but I kept wondering how Martin Sixsmith knew these things.  Was he a fucking mouse in their pockets?  Some of these conversations took place sixty years ago too.  I wasn't always able to suspend my suspicious disbeliefs.

There isn't an index either, which bothered me too.

  To quote The Sound of Music, "But it doesn't mean anything."  What exactly is this book about?  Bad nuns.  AIDs, Closeted gay Republicans. Except I already know about that.   It's certainly not about Martin Sixsmith, and not even really about Philomena, which again, is completely different from the movie.  Interesting choice; the book is about Michael Hess, who quite frankly isn't very sympathetic and whose story isn't really all that interesting or revolutionary.  The movie, conversely, is about Martin and Philomena, their search, and some religious and philosophical discussion thrown in.  That's what is missing from this far from perfect book.

Enjoyable, but only just.

The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a 50 Year SearchThe Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a 50 Year Search by Martin Sixsmith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable, but only just.  There is plenty about this book that bothered me.  First, if you've seen the movie, be prepared that the book is the same story only inverted and changed.  It's one of those rare times that I liked the movie far, far more than the book.  This is essentially an extra-long piece of longform journalism, mixed with narrative nonfiction, so we get to see people's thoughts and are privy to long ago conversations.  I am suspicious of this type of nonfiction, and I'm always wondering how a sixty year old conversation gets perfectly transcribed, including what the day was like or the furrowed brow or the smell of popcorn in the distant, or whatever... it just seems fishy.  Michael Hess isn't a particularly sympathetic character either (which may be why in the movie he's more of a peripheral character, the MacGuffin that allows Judi Dench and that other guy to wax poetic and argue about religion and nuns).

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