The Help – Kathryn Stockett (Book & Film)

I was wondering what else I could blog about, and I realised that some of my very early reviews which can only be found on Amazon have never made it to this blog. Now I am not going to go back and repost ALL of them, but some of them I think certainly need to be on here for posterity and by the fact that I like things in some sort of order, everything can be found in one place then.

One of these books is The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which I read way back in Jan 2010 (this blog was started in August of that year). I recall picking it up on a whim in the bookshop and reading it with great delight, even more so when it became more and more popular and was a must read book. It sometimes gives you a great feeling knowing you have read a book before all the hype.

Of course I learnt of the film version, but never actually got round to seeing it at the cinema. So when at the end of last year, I spotted it being premiered on the BBC, I set the magic box to record and there it sat until I decided one Saturday night recently with not much else on, to watch it.

I am glad I read the book first, as they are inherently better but I was pleasantly surprised by the film, but could see some things which were clearly left out and/or added in. The only problem was the language, I struggled with the book and in the end I decided to imagine reading it out loud, ironically when I heard it spoke on the film I had to resort to subtitles. However, that aside it was a good adaptation of the book and got clearly across the message that the book portrays much more strongly.

Here is my review:

This is the story of three women, Minny and Aibileen and Miss Skeeter. All three women are fighting their own battles and come together to fight one particular battle that of changing opinion in the mid 1960s. However there is a difference between Miss Skeeter and Minny and Aibileen. Miss Skeeter is white and the other two women are Black maids, employed to look after children and keep houses clean and tidy – but these women are not to be trusted and they could quite easily be stealing the silver and they could also be using the same sanitation facilities as the white women that they look after.

Miss Skeeter crosses into their world when she tries to discover what happened to her family maid Constantine, by putting to paper all the stories of the black maids in the area, and how they are really treated by their white employers. However Miss Skeeter has her own problems, her height has been a disability to finding a suitable husband much to her mother’s vexation and without the suitable man on the arm, she finds it difficult to slip back into the life that her friends are all living. Married, husbands, children, weekly bridge meetings, League Meetings (similar to the WI, I imagine) and making sure that everyone follows the correct rules and obeys them to the letter.

Aibileen provides the initial story to Miss Skeeter and to us the reader of the sort of life she has led being a help. The current family The Leefolts have one daughter, Mae Mobley who spends more time with Aibileen then with her mother, who just sees her as a nuisance but a necessity to fit into a particular type of world. Mae Mobley and the subsequent brother which is born during the story rely on Aibileen for everything, and Mae Mobley does not see the difference between colour and does not understand why everyone is set on changing her mind about someone who she obviously treats more as a mother than her own biological one. Children are the innocent ones and can see no wrong in the world; it is the adults which are teaching them their ways be them right and wrong. This comes across very strongly in the book and is definitely the underlying theme throughout. Aibileen gives us an insight into the other maids in the area as she convinces them to tell their stories to Miss Skeeter, putting her own job and livelihood on the line.

Minny is the maid that says too much, think it but do not say it. Minny says it how it is, and despite being kept as a second class citizen this has lost her many jobs. In particular the job she had with Miss Hilly, a friend of Miss Skeeter’s. Her new job with Miss Celia sees another world which these Black Maids are working in. What happened when she left Miss Hilly’s is hinted upon and becomes finally the core of making sure that all the maids who have given their stories despite their names being changed keep their jobs. Do you want the world to know really what your maid did to you?

There is so much to this book that I could go on quite happily and end up telling you exactly what happens. Needless to say this is a book which must be read, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry as you realise that such prejudice existed less than 60 years previously and that some of the so called ‘rules’ actually make no sense whatsoever. You may find difficulty in the reading of the book, as Kathryn Stockett’s uses very colloquial language in Minny and Aibileen’s stories, do not let this put you off, persevere it is so worth it in the end. A must read, in fact an education wrapped up into a wonderful and daring novel. A fantastic debut for Stockett worthy of 5 stars plus.

First reviewed on Amazon January 2010.

Even though I watched the film some five years after the book, I knew there were some differences although I could not quite put my finger on them exactly – a few are mentioned below. (Thanks to googling the differences between the book and the film)

The portrayal of Skeeter in the book is more like a misfit, ‘big and tall’. The film has her much slimmer and of average height, with very little need to beautify.

The film has Skeeter’s mother already ill, in the book we discover she has cancer after having tests done.

In the book, Hilly is described as dark-haired and somewhat plain and stocky, her weight increasing over the course of the year covered by the story. The film portrays Hilly is slender and her appearance does not slip into sloppiness except on the occasion she tries to confront Charlotte over Skeeter’s actions.

So much is glossed up or over for screen adaptations, but I think if you have not read the book or seen the film – start with the book, you will not be disappointed. Correction you may well be disappointed but only with the behaviour of humans.