Posts Tagged ‘mississippi’


This was John Grisham’s first novel, and also the first of his which I have read, although I have seen a number of films based on his works (including the adaptation of this book).

Carl Lee Hailey – a black man living in Clanton, Ford County, Mississippi – finds out that his daughter has been raped by two white men, and murders the rapists in revenge. He stands trial for murder and is represented by young lawyer Jake Brigance. The county is fiercely divided between those who think Carl Lee’s actions were justified and he should be acquitted, and those who think he should face capital punishment for what he did. The Ku Klux Klan are determined that Carl Lee must hang and embark on a campaign of harassment and intimidation. Soon the sleepy Ford County is divided into two sides, both willing to go to any lengths to win this war.

I can see why Grisham is such a popular writer – his story flows easily and this is one of those books where you pick it up with the intention of reading a few pages and hours later you’re still reading. I am unsure of my feelings regarding Jake – I was ‘on his side’ re Carl Lee, but his politics in general put me off him somewhat. I did however like the characters of Lucien Wilbanks – Jake’s mentor, an alcoholic but a smart man, and Harry Rex, another lawyer who helps Jake.

Some of the scenes were disturbing, especially those regarding the KKK, and there is prolific use of the n word, which I found extremely jarring. But the story itself was gripping, and I would definitely read more by John Grisham.

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This film was based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel.  Set in Mississippi in the early 1960s, it tells the story of an idealistic young woman nicknamed Skeeter, who decides to interview the African-American maids who work for the white families in her neighbourhood, and find out what life is like for the maids.  She plans to write a book based on the maids’ stories, but this risky venture places her at odds with her family and friends.

I loved the book, and often find that films based on books can be a disappointment.  However, in this case, I thought the film was also wonderful, with beautiful performances all round.  Emma Stone played Skeeter, and while I did not initially think that she was the right fit for the part, she was excellent.  Viola Davis (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance) played Aibileen beautifully – I cried over her character’s losses and heartbreaks.  Octavia Spencer won the Oscar for her performance as Minny, and it was well deserved – she managed to combine just the right amount of sass and vulnerability (and her revenge on her bigoted and hateful former employee Hilly was both hilarious and shocking!)  Jessica Chastain played Celia Foote, Minny’s new employer, a sweet and insecure young woman, who is rejected by Hilly and her band of followers, because Celia is married to Hilly’s ex-boyfriend (and also because Celia is sexy and pretty).  Celia and Aibileen were in fact my two favourite characters, both in the book and the film.

Even knowing about the segregation laws, and the discrimination that people faced, it is still squirm inducing to see it played out on screen.  The hypocrisy of Hilly was breath-taking – she was happy to make herself look good by raising money for starving African children, but heaven forbid that her black maid should be allowed to use the family bathroom.  It’s okay for Minny to raise Hilly’s child and cook the family’s food, but she should not be allowed to eat in the same room as them?  Bryce Dallas Howard played Hilly, and should be given credit for her excellent portrayal of such a hateful and ignorant character.  Allison Janney was also wonderful – but when isn’t she?! – as Skeeter’s sick mother, and Sissy Spacek shone as Hilly’s mother, who was a much nicer character than her daughter.

The characters are all fully fleshed out, and there are moments of laughter, sadness, triumph and despair throughout the film.  I cried at a number of scenes, but there are plenty of ironic laughs to be had as well.  I recommend both the film and the book very highly.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Tate Taylor

Producers: Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouel, Nate Berkus, Jennifer Blum, L. Dean Jones Jr., John Norris, Mark Radcliffe, Jeff Skoll, Tate Taylor, Derick Washington, Michael Barnathan, Chris Colombus, Brunson Green, Sonya Lunsford

Writers: Kathryn Stockett (novel), Tate Taylor

Main cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney


Click here for my review of the novel.


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The Long Hot Summer, made in 1958, was the first film (of seven) in which real life couple Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward starred together.  Newman is Ben Quick, a man who due to his reputation for being a barn-burner, is usually chased out of whatever town he has settled in.  When he arrives in a small Mississippi town, he quickly ingratiates himself with Will Varner (Orson Welles) one of the town’s richest and most influential men.  Varner’s son Jody (Tony Franciosa) is unhappy about it, because he feels that Quick is usurping him in the affections of his father.  Varner’s daughter Clara (Woodward) is also unhappy about it because she feels that Quick is unscrupulous and untrustworthy.  She’s correct, but dammit if he isn’t incredibly charismatic too – a problem that Clara inevitably finds herself having to deal with!

Newman is terrific as Ben Quick – he was an incredibly accomplished actor and really brings Quick to life, and there’s no denying that he also looked stunning.  Woodward too is excellent as Clara, who is torn between being independent, and fulfilling her father’s (and her own) desire to get married and settle down.  Real life couples don’t always work well together on screen, but these two do, and the chemistry between them is sizzling.  The rest of the cast is not always so successful. Franciosa was not always convincing as Jody (although Lee Remick was a delight as Jody’s flighty wife Eula), and Orson Welles was just over the top for me.

The story was entertaining, although it sometimes became melodramatic, due in part to the soundtrack (something I’ve noticed in other dramas from the 50s), and the film is occasionally unintentionally hilarious.  However, Newman and Woodward keep it all together and make the film worth watching (see it for their performances, if nothing else).  The film as a whole reminded me somewhat of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, another Newman film set in the South with similar themes of parental expectations and disillusionment.

Overall, not a brilliant film and not one I’d rush to see again, but it was enjoyable enough and worth a watch.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Martin Ritt

Producer: Jerry Wald

Writers: William Faulkner (short stories ‘Barn Burning’ and ‘The Spotted Horses’, book ‘The Hamlet), Irving Ravetch, Harriet Frank Jr.

Main cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, Lee Remick, Tony Franciosa, Angela Lansbury

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This rather beautiful books tells the story of three women, two of whom – Aibileen and Minny – are black maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, when racial segregation meant that black and white people could not mix socially, could not use the same restaurants, and could not go to the same hospitals or churches.  The third woman is a white girl named Skeeter, who comes home from college with dreams of becoming a writer.  She eventually decides to write a book about what it is like to be a black maid working for a white family, and she, Aibileen and Minny become embroiled in an exciting and potentially dangerous project.

I’m not sure I can accurately put into words how much I enjoyed this book.  The three narrators’ voices (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) come through beautifully and each character is distinct and wholly believeable.  We see each character’s life through their own eyes, and watch as they cope with their own problems (Aibileen is still grieving over the death of her son, and trying hard to make the young child she looks after grow up to be a nice person; Minny lives with an abusive husband and several demanding children; Skeeter has an over-bearing mother who won’t explain the sudden disappearance of Skeeter’s beloved childhood maid).

As well as the three central characters, there are a multitude of other people of great importance to the storyline.  Hilly Holbrook is a long time friend of Skeeter’s, but the bond between them is pulled very taut as the hypocritical and bigoted Hilly dislikes Skeeter’s desire for awareness and change.  Their other best friend, Elizabeth Leefolt, is Aibileen’s boss and it is her daughter who Aibileen cares for (seemingly far more than Elizabeth does).  However, my favourite of the ’supporting’ players is Celia Foote – Minny’s boss, who herself feels an outsider, as Hilly and her friends consider that she is not good enough to associate with them.

Historical events such as the death of JFK and Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech are covered here, adding to the already very real sense of the time in which this novel is set.

One of the things I most admired about the novel is that the author does not just show the characters as either good or bad.  She shows them as totally believable people.  Some of the nicer people sometimes do less-than-good things, and some of the not-so-nice characters in the book can show that they have a heart.

I loved this book, and would say it is definitely my favourite book out of all that I have read this year.  It’s thought-provoking, funny in places (look out for the scene with the toilets), and it made me cry in other places.  I was riveted throughout; my attention was grabbed on page one, and was held right through to the last page.

Utterly fantastic read, and very strongly recommended.  10/10

(Author’s website can be found here.)


Click here for my review of the 2011 film adaptation.


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This is a fabulous and utterly compelling debut novel, set in Mississippi in the 1940s, a time when white people and black people were not friends, and did not socialise together.  It is a novel about hatred and intolerance, about anger, about family and about love.

Laura McAllan is not happy when her husband Henry decides to move them from their comfortable life in the city to a remote cotton farm in the Mississipi Delta.  She misses her home comforts, and struggles with the harsh and sparse lifestyle (she names the farm ‘Mudbound because that is precisely what it is when the rain falls and makes the bridge to town unpassable).  What she hates most of all is that they have to share their home with Henry’s hateful father, ‘Pappy’.

Into their home comes Henry’s charismatic younger brother Jamie, who is more sensitive to Laura’s unhappiness than her own husband, but having recently got back from fighting in World War II, Jamie is fighting his own demons.

Ronsel Jackson is the eldest son of the black family who work on Henry’s farm.  He too, has been fighting in the war, but in the South in the 1940s, there is no hero’s welcome for a young black man.  Jamie and Ronsel become friends, but in such a heated and claustrophobic atmosphere as they are living in, such a friendship can only lead to tragedy.

I was gripped by this book from the very first page.  There was a sense of impending doom all through it, and the final denouement was shocking.  The book disturbed me in many ways, especially in the way that the racism displayed is just accepted as normal, by white and black alike.  The book is told from the viewpoints of several of the characters, and the author successfully gave each character their own distinct personality.  Some of the characters were hateful and some were admirable – but all were very human, coping with human flaws and idiosyncrasies, while trying to make their way in the world.

Beautiful and moving, gorgeous writing, brimming with atmosphere, this book is highly, highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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