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Friday, 18 May 2012

Book Review: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

I bought this book simply because I like the film. I'd read a few bad things about it but decided it was far better to try it out for myself. While it sparkled in parts, the sensation of being dictated to - rather than becoming immersed in a love story - was all too present.

The Bridges of Madison County tells the brief love story of married Francesca Johnson and photographer Robert Kincaid. They meet while Robert is in Iowa taking pictures of, yep, local bridges and embark on a very swift affair. Francesca is reawakened by her experiences with Robert but her responsibilities continue to bite.

My main issue with this book was that the characters, particularly Robert, became vessels for the author. When they become mouthpieces for ideas then they cease to be plausible characters and I think that's what happened here. Occasionally, you had several pages of dialogue banging on one drum without being intertwined with narrative or action. The effect of this was essentially to bring me out of the book and make me aware I was reading a creation rather than a truth. That could work for some readers but not me.

That isn't to say there weren't good aspects to this book. The small town atmosphere was expertly invoked and the scene where Francesca sees Robert drive away for the last time was gripping and emotional. However, it's notable that neither of these plus-points relied on dialogue. I think the book excelled when it stopped being aware of itself as a book. I didn't find it a particularly enjoyable novel but I do still appreciate the screen version and how it turned a mediocre book into a much better film.

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