Friday, October 27, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

I finished The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger fairly quickly. It was a much faster read than my previous books since, quite frankly, it's a bit of superficial read.

Andrea (Andy) find herself graduated from college and feeling rather blase about finding work. She is surprised when one of her randomly dropped of resumes to a magazine company lands her an interview and then a job as the junior personal assistant to the Editor in Chief of Runway magazine. While this might be a job that "a million girls would die for" Andy finds her boss to be a little overly demanding.

The pros:
Very funny in spots.
An interesting look at fashion and fashion magazines and their tendency to take themselves too seriously
A lot of girls/women might be able to identify with the fashion-outsider Andy who wants something more meaningful despite her the "big break" she's received.

The cons:
Way too predictable. No wonder it was made into a Hollywood move (all of which follow a very predictable formula - I'll dig it out from a script writing class I took).
Too many lists- I know the idea was to prove that the author really knows about this world of fashion and fashion magazines and in an attempt to make it more "authentic" or "real" she would include page long lists of designers that someone meets with or what's in a suitcase, mostly I skipped these parts they did nothing for the plot and so, in my opinion, were practically unnecessary.
The plot was flat. About half way through I wanted to scream, "I get it! The woman is a heartless bitch and Andy is having the soul sucked out of her. Where is the plot? Where is the problem? What's going on?" Really, a plot should be the character going through hardships, encountering problems, solving them, moving on to greater obstacles to their goals. Maybe the problem is that the goals and problems in this book were too mundane. Andy wants to be a writer for the New Yorker. She thinks this job will put her on the fast track, too bad her boss is an uber-bitch. But do I really need hundreds of pages of her daily horrific sleep-deprived routine? Some of the interesting things, when she gets thrown for a loop and made to go to parties or runway shows were the most interesting "problems" she encounters (beats hearing about her Starbucks runs from hell) but there weren't enough of them.
The narrative also needed some tweaking. The book starts out at point B when Andy is already in her job from hell, then moves backwards to point A on how she got this job, and goes forward into point C. My problem here is not that structure it can work well, except that we never come back to point B (the beginning) before moving on to point C (the end). I kept thinking that all of this was in the past only to get to the end and find out, that I had been wrong for a good portion of the book. I blame the publisher/editor/agent/whoever-read-this-thing-before-printing-it for not catching and correcting that mistake.

The movie: I have not seen it. But...I can say that I totally see where the casting came from. I can think of no better person than Glen Close to play Miranda Preistly, the horrible boss. And I totally see how they could see Anne Hathaway in the role. I noticed in the book Andy is often referred to as "Blondie," though Anne Hathaway is not. I am hoping that this was done based on Anne Hathaway's acting ability and the fact that they wanted her regardless of "looks" and not some decision that brunettes are somehow more likely than blondes to be fashion-challenged as Andy is in the book. Also, in the book Andy's boyfriend is named Alex (how cute!) , but the movie changes it to Nate. Not a huge deal, and I can see how someone might not want the "too cute" assonance of their names.

I am actually looking forward to the movie because I think it might actually be better than the book, which I don't think happens that often. I just think that the mediocre plot line, but interesting characters, plus the engaging actors will lend itself better to the screen than the book.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

I finally finished reading His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman (see here also). These are my own short summaries and I am trying not to give too much away for those who are/want to read them.

The first book The Golden Compass was by far the best.
The setting is a world like ours, but still different. Something seem antiquated and others are still very modern. Children across the land are being kidnapped and when Lyra's best friend Roger goes missing she's determined to rescue him. This takes her on a grand adventure from her home into the land of witches and as far as the arctic. She gets caught up in all kinds of intrigue - political, scientific, and religious.

The second book The Subtle Knife was interesting, but not as good as the first, and seemed only to exist in order to a) introduce more characters and b) shuffle them around to get them into place for the culmination of book 3.
Doorways to other worlds, some near mirrors to Lyra's and others amazingly different begin to be found. Lyra encounters Will, a boy from our world, and the adventure begun in the Golden Compass continues for the both of them. The philosophy of good, evil, god and temptation deepens and expands as Lyra and Will begin to learn more about the causes behind the events that unfurled in book one.

The third book The Amber Spyglass was the longest and the most convoluted. I think at this point Pullman was trying to put too much into this final installation with out paying much attention to what he had set up previously.
Lord Asriel is taking on the Authority and is calling on some very mighty powers to do so. Creatures from across many worlds are joining sides in what is sure to be a cosmically huge war. Lyra and Will are destined to play an important role, but have their own important agenda which will take them to the World of the Dead and back regardless of the consequences.

My analysis:

I loved Pullman's ideas of multiple worlds, uncountable numbers of worlds really. Each one created every moment. The idea being that in one world Lyra decides to hide in a room in which she is forbidden to go (the very opening scene of book one), but at the moment she decides to do this a new world is created in which that Lyra chooses a different route. In this way millions of worlds are always being created and they exist right on top of each other in the same space and time, never aware and never matching up exactly. The end of the first book introduces us to the concept and the second book gives the characters a way to move between worlds (this is how Will from our world and Lyra meet). In book 3 we start seeing worlds that barely resemble ours at all because thousands of years ago evolution took a different turn creating an Earth that we might not recogognize.

In Lyra's world each person is accompanied by a daemon. It is difficult to explain what a daemon is because Pullman illustrates it through action and discourse rather than a straightforward "telling." Humans and Daemon's are connected they can not be very far distances from each other with out causing pain or death. In effect, the daemon is a part of a person just inhabiting a separate body. The form of a daemon can tell you about the person - a sailor may have a dolphin or gull daemon, a servant a dog, a spy may have a very unobtrusive, small or easily hidden daemon. Until one reaches adolescence the daemon can change form, but upon adulthood it "settles" on a single form. This prompts the beginning, in the first book, of the discussions of innocence, sin, and temptation which is wrapped up in the transition of childhood into adolescence and the beginnings of adulthood.

All in all Pullman created both a fun and adventurous story while filling it with depth. I think he inevitably set his eyes a little too far and tried to cram too much in the third book and leaving the second one a little mundane.

From Here Down -- spoiler warning, major plot points in all 3 books revealed - read at your own risk

Some of the very philosophical aspects:

Pullman delves into some very interesting topics regarding religion, temptation, and the nature of growing up. Particles referred to as Dust are discovered by scientists in Lyra's world (called Shadows or negative particles in our world) and it is further revealed that Dust is attracted more to adults than pre-adolescent children. In Lyra's world the Church decides that this is evidence of original sin. If they can some how destroy that which attracts Dust to adults they can somehow eliminate sin or temptation. Through out the three books it is revealed to the readers that it is not sin but consciousness (or wisdom/knowledge) that Dust is attracted to. Until humanity became aware of itself, was able to create, to make and use tools Dust did not settle on us. While Dust is attracted to our mature consciousness, humanity's works -tools, art, science etc- creates more Dust creating a symbiotic relationship which we find out in the 3rd book is in peril. This goes interestingly with story of the Garden of Eden, and Pullman makes the connection by putting Lyra at the heart of a prophesy in which she plays the part of Eve, it was after eating the Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that Adam and Eve became aware of themselves and their nakedness. The character of Mary Malone (purposely an ex-nun) is also cast in the prophesy as the serpent. She is supposed to play the tempter to make sure that Lyra chooses knowledge and maturity in order to assure the continued existence of Dust. Too bad Pullman seems to have forgot by book 3 that Mary was supposed to play the serpent, because she seems to play almost no role in the temptation at all. The parallel to the garden of Eden goes a little to far, when towards the end of book 3, Lyra and Will searching for their daemons find a garden spot and realize that they have come to love each other. Lyra offers him a piece of fruit after she takes a bite of it and they find themselves kissing passionately.

Pullman also does a lot with religion in these novels. In the second book we find out that all of Lord Asriel's actions in the first book had little to do with Dust and were really the first steps to launching an all out war on God (the Authority). Pullman's take on God being the first angel and therefore unfathomably old to the point where he is beyond frail and nearly unaware of himself and his surroundings. God hid himself away in a fortress of sorts and all of his power has been usurped by another angel. In order to protect God in his fragile state he is sealed in an unbreakable glass carriage which during the war is shot down while being evacuated by angels. God trapped inside is saved by Lyra and Will, but is so frail that just stepping out into normal air allows him to come apart (like angels and ghosts do when dying or stepping out into a real world) and he shows signs of pure happiness when it happens. The powerful angel who took over for god is brought down by his own envy of humanity and he too dies. It is the ultimate statement of "God is Dead." And yet the Church and all of it's different branches continue to go on functioning. I think that Pullman gives us very weighty food for thought on the nature of religious organizations.