With summer winding down and school starting back, I decided to take a look at popular novels that have been made into current movies. I chose The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais and The Giver by Lois Lowry.
The Hundred Foot Journey title refers to the hundred foot distance that separates two restaurants and the people that both live and work there. Unlike the short time required for a journey of a hundred feet, the book itself takes its time getting to the point of this plot.
I decided to review this book because I received a free pass to see the movie and loved it. Based on the story of the movie and the portrayal of the characters, I was eager to read the book. I looked forward to learning more about the story and discovering the elements that the movie left out.
As I began reading, however, my excitement quickly gave way to disappointment. The Hundred Foot Journey is one of those rare cases where the movie proves to be better than the book.
Told in first person narrative from the perspective of the main character, Hassan, the first three chapters focus primarily on Hassan’s childhood in India and then very briefly on two years spent in London before moving into the main plot.
The attempt is to give the reader an understanding of Hassan and to set up the events which serve as the catalyst for the rest of the novel. The result is a disjointed ramble that gives far too much attention to detail and minutia.
While the movie manages to capture the important elements of the events in Hassan’s life, the book goes into great detail on events that are never mentioned again. I found this distracting as at first it seemed these events were significant, when in fact they were later determined to be unimportant or secondary to the primary plot.
One exception to this is the momentary focus on Hassan’s early romantic relationships. It is shown that the sudden death of his mother early in the novel profoundly impacts his subsequent relationships with women and with other people in his life. One example is when he and his mother spent a day together and dined in an upper scale French restaurant. In this instance, Morais’ attention to detail works well in establishing the special closeness that Hassan feels towards his mother and gives the reader a strong feeling of sympathy towards Hassan when his mother dies a few pages later.
Reading is often an escape for me. When I am having a bad day or am feeling otherwise pressured, reading calms me. Trying to get through The Hundred Foot Journey left me feeling frustrated at trying to keep track of the details and understand their relevance to the overall storyline.
The Giver by Lois Lowry is a young adult novel set in an unspecified future. Having decided that being different or unique leads to strife and war, society has for generations focused on creating its own form of utopia. In this society called “The Community”, the Elders keep everything and everyone under tight control. “Sameness” is the ideal, and uniqueness is deemed shameful.
Each December, The Community holds a ceremony advancing children to the next age. When a child reaches twelve, they are assigned their role or job, and the remainder of their education becomes focused on training them in that role. In his ceremony, Jonas is assigned to the role Receiver of Memory. He trains privately with the last Receiver, now labeled the Giver, receiving the Giver’s memories of the past. Jonas is now exempt from many of the community rules such as sharing his dreams or avoiding rudeness and is forbidden from requesting any medication. These changes allow him to experience true emotions such as love, attraction, and intense pain. Jonas also finds that he is able to see colors whereas the other members of the community can see only monochrome.
As with The Hundred Foot Journey, I went to see The Giver in the theatre. Whereas The Hundred Foot Journey did an excellent job of presenting the important elements of the book, The Giver took considerably more liberties. In the movie, Jonas’ age is changed from twelve to sixteen, a love triangle is added, and the role of the Elders takes on a sinister overtone. The book implies that The Community was developed by the Elders out of good intention, a belief that if everyone was the same there would be nothing to create conflict. In the film, the focus of the Elders shifts primarily to the Chief Elder whose motives are less clear.
I enjoyed both the film adaptation and the book The Giver, but I felt the book spoke to me more. Where the film created scenes that appeared thrown in just for the sake of creating an action element, the book focused more on the subtleties and nuances of being unique in a society that reveres conformity. In addition, the film made a few minor changes I did not understand such as the number of Jonas’ birth order. In the book he is number nineteen in his birth year, and in the movie he is number fifty-six. The only reason I could discern for this was an effort to create a more suspenseful scene. One other element changed from the book to the movie was Jonas’ eye color. In the book, Lowry places a special emphasis on the fact that Jonas, the Giver and a select few others have “funny eyes” (presumably blue though this this is never stated outright). In the movie, eye color is changed to a special birthmark on the inside of the wrist. To me, featuring the eye color rather than a subtle mark created a stronger point in that it is an instantly visible and distinct characteristic.
Although The Hundred Foot Journey and The Giver appear to have no similarities, there are common themes to be found. In both novels the protaganist struggles with the conflict of societal expectations versus his personal growth. In The Giver, Jonas struggles with trying to understand his experiences of deep emotion against the traditions of his society. In The Hundred Foot Journey, Hassan struggles with understanding his own deep emotions in light of his mother’s death and father’s emotional shut down, while fighting against the traditions of his society. In addition, both Jonas and Hassan experience long personal journeys that force them away from the comfort of their communities and their traditions.
I strongly urge those interested in seeing the film adaptation of The Giver to do so, but I would just as strongly encourage viewers to read the book first. For those interested in The Hundred Foot Journey, I highly recommend going the film adaptation but would advise anyone considering it to skip the book.