Picked this up after seeing the 2010 movie. A marvelous book on its own, but I especially enjoyed seeing the interplay between the movie and the book, how and why certain choices were made. Each had things I thought were done better than the other (HELEN MIRREN I LOVE YOU), but both are well worth the time. Pinkie as a character, in either version, sticks with you a long, long time.
In some ways, I think Graham Greene's writing was both a strength and weakness of the novel. He reveals flaws in sharp, brutal ways, with language that hurts sometimes it's so right, but he's always right there in the characters' heads. The sharpness and the omniscient narrator takes away from the delicate ambiguity and shift
in all the characters you see in the movie, particularly with Pinkie and Rose. Also, the movie pulls away the film of condescension that Greene drips over all the characters, the sense of moral superiority in the narrative voice over everyone
. Also also, there's a lot less of the BREASTS. BREASTS. IDA HAS BIG, BOUNCY BREASTS. going on in the movie. (No slight meant to Mme. Mirren.) The book is a lot more explicit about Catholic Moral Issues and Sex: People Are Weird About It In All Sorts Of Ways
And, whooooooo, the ending. SPOILERS FOR BOTH BOOK AND MOVIE ENDINGS FOLLOW.
I originally picked up the book, I'll be honest, to see how Greene did the ending: if he had Rose saved from her own devastation by a screwed-up recording. I thought that ending - Rose knocked up, separated from her family, but still clinging to and supported by the fantasy that Pinkie loved her (Pinkie made a recording of his voice in which he details how much he loathes her, but the record skips so that it sounds like a declaration of love) - was complicated and itchily, awfully compelling, and I figured it might be a direct translation from the book, maybe, and I was interested to see how Greene wrote that out. (And, oh, the visceral groans from the movie audience when Rose stood up and was visibly pregnant and then again when the record player was revealed. That's
good movie-making, to produce such a gut reaction.)
I remain surprised/delighted/creepily horrified by what the book's ending actually is
: we don't know if Rose is pregnant, Ida is smarmily pleased with herself for doing the right thing, even if it's much less clear that doing the right thing objectively
is the right thing for Rose subjectively
, and we never actually hear the recording of Pinkie telling her how much he hates her. We're just left hanging, knowing that Rose is on her way to go listen to it. True, there's no real way that the book version of the recording could be misinterpreted like the movie, but the lack of it playing out onpage, as it were, is even more creepy and awful. There's a sense of inheld-breath that will never be let out, and it's remarkably effective.
In some ways, I think the ending of the book is stronger, more ambiguous than the movie, even as I think the movie gave a more direct portrayal of nuance in the characters. The movie wraps up everything in an awful little bow, but there's still some sense of moral right and wrong that is successfully answered. The book is still sneering at its characters, right to the very last word, but it's that sense of indrawn breath and uncomfortable lack of answers that I think makes it stronger.
Well, actually, I think each ending works appropriately for the different mediums. That groan, that sense of AUGH that the movie induces is very fitting for the story as it's told out through peoples' faces, for the nuance and shifting motives and ambiguity of understanding. The ambiguity of overall morality, the leaving-you-hanging-even-as-you-know-what-happens-next aspect of the book fits so much better with the novel that's been as much about Greene's words and Dealing With Issues as it's been about the characters. So, hey, kudos to both. (And to Helen Mirren.)