Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Woman in the Fifth

Sitting on the underground a few days ago I happened to pick up a copy of the 'London Metro' and flicking idly through it I suddenly spotted a film review of 'The Woman in the Fifth'. What? I was gob-smacked. Why? What is all this about, you might well ask?

Well, 'The Woman in the Fifth' (2007) is a book by Douglas Kennedy - and Douglas Kennedy happens to be one of my favourite authors. I continually wait with baited breath for his latest book. He is a best-selling author and his books are real page-turners, as far as I am concerned. And I seem to be able to get into his mind and his ways of thinking very easily. I have written about Kennedy's books on previous blog entries of mine - see

'Douglas Kennedy: a best-selling novelist'


'The Moment' by Douglas Kennedy

But 'The Woman in the Fifth' - well, to be honest with you, I probably like this the least of the Kennedy books that I have read. For me, it was the ending that I found so very disappointing. The book was full of intrigue, but all the questions largely remained unanswered at the end, and one is left hanging. Some readers like that sort of thing, I guess, but such books do not tend to appeal to me on the whole. On completing it, I felt that it had been written more for sensationalism than anything else. And I felt the same, initially, after having watched the film.

Now, this book is not Kennedy's usual style. On the whole, he conveys many important messages, as well as developing exciting, fast-moving and intriguing plots that have clear endings. He deals with various philosophical, political and moral issues. These are the areas that I would like to see developed further by Kennedy. Then, he could even develop into a real classical novelist, I think. Mind you, in an interview with Kennedy on the web (see http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Douglas-Kennedy/1292019/interview/3) he does say that he aims "...to be the sort of novelist who could be serious and popular at the same time. " I think he does achieve that, and I also have that ambition. In addition, Kennedy said that he had a very 19th century view of the novel, which I also liked. But 'The Woman in the Fifth', I thought, was a movement in the other direction - but Kennedy obviously had his reasons for this departure.

Anyway, when I read 'The Woman in the Fifth', although I did not like it as much as his other books, I also thought that this book might well be made into a film. I felt, indeed, that Kennedy had probably largely written this book with this very much in mind. Perhaps he saw this as a way to become more successful and make even more of an impact.

Indeed, if we can engage people, by whatever method that might be, we can get ourselves a captive audience, and then convey some important messages, and hopefully get the readers and viewers hooked into our work. But it is, of course, a gamble, and can easily go the wrong way. Kennedy could be persuaded to write more novels like this, for example; novels that can easily be made into films, but where meaning tends to become incidental. But I could be being unfair.

This is all, perhaps, an illusion anyway on one level. Who is to say what material makes for a good film and what makes for a bad film? But why did they choose to make this particular Kennedy book into a film, one wonders? To me, probably, it says something about the surface and money-making mentality of much of the film industry, and once again, the power of the propaganda machine (see my blog below, 'The Freud Exposure' for more about this, particularly in regard to Edward Bernays.)

Anyway, I decided that I just had to go and 'check out' this film and to see it on my own as reading Douglas Kennedy's books has been such a very personal journey and a personal experience for me. Indeed, when I am in certain moods and certain frames of minds, Douglas Kennedy books are the only thing that really seems to work for me. Yes, I read and re-read them and have my own copies of most of his books. This was certainly the case when my father-in -law died - nearly 3 years ago now already. Following on from this, I re-read 3 of Kennedy's books where Kennedy writes as a woman in the first person - 'The Pursuit of Happiness' (2001) (which was the first book ever of his that I read), 'The State of the Union' (2005) and 'A Special Relationship' (2003) (and indeed, I have recently re-read these 3 books yet again!) In all 3 novels the main character is an intelligent, educated, stylish but troubled woman. And I identified with all of that! 'Leaving the World' is another such book. Kennedy loves to have his characters being writers, editors, journalists, artists etc - i.e. creative people. And 'The Woman in the Fifth' is no exception here, although the main character this time is a man, Tom Ricks, who is a writer.

So, I went to the see the film on 24th February at the Curzon Soho Cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1.

'The Woman in the Fifth'
is directed by the Polish film director Pawel Pawlikowski and stars Ethan Hawke (playing Tom Ricks) and Kristen Scott Thomas (playing Margit), who is one of the women that Tom has an affair with.

The film opens with Tom, a writer and a lapsed academic, going to Paris to look for his estranged wife and his daughter. But his wife doesn't want to know him and doesn't want him to see his daughter either. We then see Tom struggling in unfamiliar surroundings. He ends up in a shady hotel doing a 'dodgy' job and having 2 affairs. But I won't say any more about the plot. I don't want to spoil it for others! Other than to say that I very much liked the atmosphere in the film, and that it was all well acted.

But I do agree with the review by Donald Clarke, which appeared in 'The Irish Times' on 17th Feb, saying that:

"While the film is asking questions it works pretty well. When it attempts to answer them it falls to pieces."

But Jeff Sawtell writing in the 'Morning Star' (16th Feb 2012) rather more charitably says:

"Is it an elaborate conspiracy or schizophrenia? That's for you to fathom. Intriguing, irritating and imaginative, it depends on your ability to conjure with the conclusion - the cinematic paradox."

I guess it also depends partly on your taste. Glenn loves the series 'Lost', which apparently leaves many questions answered.

But I guess I was disappointed with it, because it did not seem to be be attempting to say anything much. Unless, I guess, you argue that writers often go through various difficulties, and that schizophrenia is one such difficulty. On reading the novel I did not even occur to me that it might be covering the topic of schizophrenic. From that angle it, perhaps, makes more sense and perhaps I am just missing something really vital!

The more I think about it, the more I think that this is quite possible. Perhaps, the author was going through some troubles and difficulties of his own and wanted to convey that. Well, that is the beauty of the novel anyway, and indeed, for me personally (as I write), that is its main purpose. The more I think about it, the more I think that was probably what was actually going on.

In the biographical details about Kennedy in his earlier novels it refers to his wife and his 2 daughters, but in the later novels there is no mention of his wife. She is there in 'The Woman in the Fifth' (2007) and in 'Temptation' (2006) but is gone in 'Leaving the World' (2009). Only the 2 children are referred to in 'Leaving the World'. Whilst in 'Temptation' we see the main character, David Armitage, desperately wanting his scripts to hit the screen, and doing lots of dramatic things (including walking out on his wife and daughter for a young producer) to try to bring that about - but it all goes pear-shaped. Presumably, then, Kennedy is now separated from his wife. And the main characters in 'The Woman in the Fifth' (Tom - film version) and 'The Moment' (Thomas) (hey - this is the same name - just realised that, although in the book of 'Woman in the Fifth' the main character is Harry, not Tom) are both divorced/separated. So, I think these characters must definitely be based on Kennedy himself. And as Kennedy said in an interview on one occasion, he gets his material from that 'messy' thing called 'life'.

So, on reflection, I think that Kennedy was probably going through problems and difficulties in his marriage at the time of writing 'The Woman in the Fifth'. Also, that he probably really wanted to make it bigger, including hitting the screen, and was feeling frustrated (hence the plot in 'Temptation'). So, probably, at times he felt that he was going mad. And so he illustrates all of this in 'Woman in the Fifth'.

'The Woman in the Fifth' encapsulates all of this - personal troubles, trying to make breakthroughs and how all this was perhaps starting to send Tom mad in various ways. And perhaps, that is why I was finding it so difficult. Because on a personal basis I am not too keen on reading about disturbed minds and getting into the heads of unstable people, in this way. But that is really unfair of me in regard to Kennedy, because he has given me just so many hours of pleasure! This was probably something that Kennedy really needed to do. He was going through big life-changes. And if one really wants to hit it big, it can be difficult to keep ones relationship together at the same time. And we all change and move on - and some relationships can weather that, whilst others can't. So, he put all this into his fiction, hoping that this might also be appealing to potential film makers. I reckon this was what it was all about, rather than him being too idle to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw in the plot or just wanting cheap shots. That makes far more sense to me now. Also, perhaps when writing as a woman in the first person, he was trying to relate to his wife, and that could partly explain why he was so very good at it. These are my latest thoughts in regard to all of this anyway, although all of this, of course, is just speculation.

When I told Glenn some while ago about Kennedy's novels in some detail, he thought that they would probably make good films. So, what are the chances for this happening to his other novels, one wonders? Who knows! We will have to wait and see.

I hope that Kennedy continues writing in his usual style, or even better still, to deepen his writing, and does not start to write just, or largely, for the film industry. I remain very hopeful here though, and even more so, now that I have thought all this through.

Indeed, his latest novel 'The Moment' is proof of that. A great book! And I couldn't resist it - yes, I am currently re-reading 'The Moment'.

I also very much agree with another sentiment that was expressed in regard to Kennedy's writing in this interview on the web. Kennedy had this to say about one of his book-signing sessions in Paris:

"I was approached by a woman who told me: 'In the course of reading your new novel I realized that I wasn't alone...that my doubts, my fears, my griefs, were shared ones.' I informed this woman that this was the nicest compliment imaginable - because we all read to discover that we aren't alone."

How lovely and I absolutely agree!

And Glenn has been getting a lot of hits on his blog about my blog about 'The Moment' today. So, interest in Douglas Kennedy and his books definitely seems to be on the increase. Prior to this, Kennedy's novel 'The Big Picture' was made into a French film, released in 2010. So, 'The Woman in the Fifth' was not actually the first of his novels to be made into a film.

Finally, here is the link to the trailer for the film:

Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTzfb23_CF8


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