Monday, October 8, 2012

All the Sneaky Reads Part 6: Julie And Julia

Like most people in my (more likely my mother's) demographic, I saw the movie Julie and Julia a couple of years ago when it came out on DVD. I loved it. Unlike most movies, it passed the Bechdel Test -- quite a rare feat.

I used to be a stickler for not watching movies before I read the book. I've mellowed out in my old* age. Plus, having that rule kind of assumes that a) the book is always better than the movie and b) watching the movie first necessarily ruins the book. Neither of those things are consistently true. Especially if I had never heard of the book before the movie came out and had no intention of reading it, I now have no qualms about pre-book-reading movie-adaptation watching.

I picked up the book a few months ago while having a lie-down in Mum's bed (oh em gee I'm so homesick!). I think I must have been feeling particularly sensitive at the time, because the ableism in the first couple of chapters** put me off and I put it down.

But when the op shop lady offered me a free book with my hat and cargo shorts, out of curiosity I gave Julie and Julia another shot.

I bought it on Thursday. I finished it on Sunday afternoon. I don't know how quickly most people read, but that's fast for me, for 307 pages. It was a compelling read. I spent all my free time (which was a lot, because I had a four-day weekend) reading it. I haven't been that obsessive (with a book, anyway) since I demolished The Hunger Games series like a ravenous Muttilation.

Problems with Julie and Julia:
It was a little repetitive. There were about 10 temper tantrums over failed meals that could have been edited out, and probably 15 too many instances of her husband skulking around avoiding kitchen implement missiles. The husband was actually not very well-rounded out of a character, which was strange because he was the main supporting character. This probably speaks to Julie's self-absorption more than it doesn't. Saying this, I feel bad, because I relate to Julie. I guess what I'm saying is, she's pretty self-absorbed, but no more than I am.

Anyway, in these ways the movie was both snappier, in terms of just the right amount of kitchen tantrums, and deeper, in how it explored Eric's character and their relationship, and also the relationship between Julia and her husband Paul. To be fair, on that last point, I skipped most of the chapters about Julia and Paul because they were in italics and I found it hard to read, probs because I'm autistic. The movie slipped seamlessly between Julie's story and Julia's, telling them both chronologically. In the book, Julia's chapters seemed randomly sandwiched between Julie missives.

However, I did really like the book, and I wouldn't go so far as to say the movie was better. They were both good, and I liked them both. There were some elements of depth that didn't come across in the movie. There is some simple signficance to the premise of the story -- making 524 recipes in 365 days and blogging about it --  that was more delved into in the text. 'The Project' as Julie nicknames it, saves her life. Not like she was undergoing major strife when it came into her life, just the mind-numbing pain of quotidian dissatisfaction and mediocrity. Through The Project, Julie got appearances on TV, reports in the paper, and launched a career as a writer so she could quit her soul-sucking secretarial job. But those things didn't have to happen for The Project to save her.

I think she needed to achieve something. She needed someone to look up to and follow, someone who appeared to be higher than her humdrum existence. The Project was a journey for Julie, and as in all journeys, she was able to look back to the beginning and see herself a changed woman. I usually look back and see the year-ago me as a markedly different person, but it would be kind of awesome for that inevitable change to be the result of something intentional, like deliberately internalising the voice of a fictionalised 1960s lady-chef.

The other insight I got from Julie and Julia was Julie's connection between cooking and eating and sex. I didn't understand it enough to explain it, maybe you should just read it yourself. But there were things about submitting to the fullness and totality of a taste in order to truly be consumed by it and enjoy it. And that's all I'll say about that.

I don't think Julie and Julia is a book that everyone should read. But if you find it on your mother's bedside table, or for free at an op shop, I think it's worth picking up and perusing.

*I'm not actually old, I'd like to clarify, I meant this ironically. I'm sick of people in their twenties moaning about being old. That's what your thirties are for, people!

**It was something about how she saw a mentally ill person chuck a fit on the subway and realised she wasn't far off being that person. Her description, along with her premise, was (put on the thick glasses) problematic.

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