The backstory: The Help was longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize. It's also now a movie.
My thoughts: Oh, The Help. I wanted to like you so much. Bloggers I almost always agree with all loved it. As most of the reading public is familiar with The Help and has probably read it, this review will be frank about the novel and may include spoilers for people who somehow have never heard of it.
I fully admit it: I'm not normally a fan of Southern fiction. Despite living in Atlanta for thirteen years, I never developed a love for Southern fiction or culture. Southern food, however, I fully embraced.
I picked up The Help once before a few years ago and only made it a few pages because of the Southern speak. This time I persevered, but I found it all rather dull. I did really like the character of Skeeter. I'm often drawn to idealistic young female characters who dream of being a writer, so that comes as no surprise. Still, I found nothing in Skeeter's story surprising, so it wasn't enough to carry this novel for me.
My biggest problem with The Help was its pacing. I think there's a heart of a good story in there, but the plot seemed incredibly obvious to me, and Stockett's writing wasn't strong enough to make me enjoy the journey that seemed clear from the the time we meet Skeeter. Would my outlook be different if I read The Help too years ago before its contents became so well known? Perhaps. For being 454 pages long, very little actually happens. I wanted more conflict, intrigue and sadness. I found it disconcertingly gentle. Compared with the fantastic Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman (my review), The Help seemed so watered down.
I also really disliked the faux-Southern voices of Minny and Aibileen. I found it awkward and distracting to see 'a' used in place of 'of.' I was annoyed that the the writing didn't reflect clipped g's and other hallmarks of Southern dialect. It seemed an odd compromise, and it distracted from Aibileen and Minny's narratives.
There were things I liked. I found the portrayal of Aibileen's church to be very positive and inspiring. The congregation provided the only emotional connection I had to the story.
Despite my misgivings with the novel as a whole, I am looking forward to the film. With 454 pages of a novel to fit into a film, I think the pacing issues will be solved. Although I found Stockett's writing underwhelming, the cast of the film is superb, and I believe their acting could carry this story to the top.
Favorite passage: It's a bad sign when there is not one memorable passage in 454 pages.
The verdict: I wasn't a fan of The Help, but I am looking forward to seeing the movie.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Length: 464 pages
Publication date: February 10, 2009
Source: I bought it (in hardcover) before I got my Kindle a year and a half ago)
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