Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller



It's funny how people either totally love or totally hate this book. I also think it was weird how so many of those negative reviews are focused on the fact that 'a true love story could never involve an affair.' I am not really an expert on romance literature, but even I know that the theme isn't exactly new.

The first time I read The Bridges of Madison County, it was a quick breezy, have-got-nothing-else-to-do read. When I re-read it for the book-club, I let myself be completely engaged in it and it worked wonders on my impression! The book has much to offer and the only way to acquire it, as the narrator says so himself, is to let go of any preconceived judgement and cynicism.

The book is very subtle, which, I realized during my 're-read', may be the reason why people just don't seem to get it. It's more than a brief affair between a bored wife, who is looking for an adventure of the physical kind and this sexy photographer who just happens to be there. Look at Francesca's history, her brief relationship with this artist that her parents brought to an end, the circumstance under which she married Richard, the soldier, her passion for teaching and literature and the idea that she had to give it all up and settle in this small American town as a farmer's wife. She was indeed unhappy with the marriage. But Francesca wasn't 'looking' for an affair. She liked her life, the people were 'nice', she never really thought about how much she had had to change, till the interesting (not just sexy) photographer asked her how she found Iowa. Robert Kincaid reminded her of something she had let go of a long time ago - passion: the physical stuff was one part of it. It's easy to scoff at an affair, and much easier to ignore why she was lead to it.

People have said it was morbid, the way she told her children of her affair in the letter. The letter had such a homey air to it, it was funny, awkward and very open and that is exactly the sort of relationship a woman like Francesca would have formed with her children. The movie version of it bothered me - especially Michael's reaction.

The movie really was as good as the book, and I hardly ever say this about any adaptation. Even the additions made, apart from Francesca's little outburst in the middle, were fitting. My biggest criticism for the book was that Francesca never made anything out of the love that she developed for Robert other than treasuring the memory. She just remained this sad, depressing person, with nothing good in her life but the memory of those four days. In the movie, though, she goes out of her way to form a bond with the woman who has been shunned by the town.

I thought the book was very well written, the prose is perhaps a little too poetic at times, but the tension never weakens. The book is very quotable and it is one of the rare occasions when that is actually a good thing. The book had its flaws, of course, but overall, considering how hugely soppy romances could be, I thought this one was pretty good. 


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