By skepticlawyer

044022859x01_bo2204203200_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_aa240_sh20_sclzzzzzzz_.jpgA few weeks ago on local Rocky commercial telly, my nephew told me about an odd film he’d seen while I was away on circuit. This is a kid who never pauses to read anything – he’s far more interested in gaming and technology. Books are just so passe. ‘I want to read it’, he said. ‘It sounds interesting’.

So I hopped onto amazon and bought it. He read it. Then (after prying it off him) I read it. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve read in at least five years. And one of the most disturbingly clever books I’ve ever read full stop.

Holes – the show Marc watched – was the film version of Louis Sachar’s novel of the same name, ostensibly a kids’ book but one that blends Latvian myth, magic realism and a compelling, sympathetic understanding of society’s losers into a coherent whole. Stuff like this shouldn’t work – it should be crippled by didacticism, or an inability to make the disparate story-lines mesh without more coincidence than an early Dickens novel. But Sachar makes it work, in part because he seems to understand how people react when the capacity to manage their own lives is taken from them.

Stanley Yelnats (the palindrome is intentional) finishes up in a juvenile detention centre in Texas. The centre, oddly named ‘Camp Green Lake’, is in the middle of a desert. There is no lake, and there hasn’t been one for over 100 years. The boys sent there (the novel is relentlessly masculine, but intelligently so) are meant to build character spending all day, every day, digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep.

In time, it becomes clear that the Warden (she isn’t named until the last 20 pages of the novel) is looking for something, and has cooked up the detention-centre schtick as a putative rehabilitative exercise purely to line her own pockets. She is the only significant female character in the book; her male acolytes play an odd game of bait and switch in order to stay in her good books and maintain dominance over her charges, all of whom (including the main character) have significant familial and social problems. The novel’s delineation of what the exercise of feminine power looks like (absent feminism) is one of its most striking features. It is as though Sachar has managed calmly to sit outside every busted relationship he’s ever had and spot just how women would abuse power, given the opportunity.

The point, if there is one, is ‘be careful what you wish for’ and also, ‘don’t half-arse it’. Stanley is only able to pay his debt and hold his head up once he carries though on a promise made by his great-great grandfather. It’s possible to read the ‘debt’ as any one of a dozen different things – the debt the US has incurred through enslaving Zero’s ancestors (one of the book’s main characters), or the fact that ‘law’ is meaningless without some sense of justice. Ultimately, however, Holes is a book about outsiders, one of the best I’ve ever read. I haven’t seen the film, as yet, but I plan to. If only so I can start a little digging for myself.


  1. Posted October 26, 2006 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    And on that point, do we have an Amazon affiliate code?

    Just askin.

  2. Posted October 26, 2006 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    While my nephews were staying with us they asked us to hire this film (they had seen it before) and my wife and I thought it was a great kids film. Haven’t read the book though.

  3. Posted October 26, 2006 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    And I haven’t seen the film. If the usual rule is anything to go by, the book will be considerably better than the film.

    It is a very good book. There’s only about two paras where he overdoes the debt/redemption theme; the rest is subtle and very clever.

  4. Posted October 27, 2006 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Yes, generally I am disappointed by screen adaptations of books also. They inevitably leave out great scenes, merge characters etc because there is too much in a novel to put into a movie. Short stories often make better movies for this reason.

    However that said having no idea about the book or what I missed, I liked the movie!

  5. Boris
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the book or seen the film but I know about it because my daughter read it in Hebrew as part of the school reading program when she was about 12. Incidentally, they had it for English reading program here in Oz again a few years later. I think she liked it both times, although the first time it made more of an impression. I thought it was weird stuff, from her descriptions.

    She didn’t like the film though.

  6. Jason Soon
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Hey Boris! Welcome back to the land of Oz.

  7. Posted October 28, 2006 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Yair, was wondering where you’ve been, Boris.

    Your daughter must have been an advanced reader – the storyline struck me as very adult, and pretty violent in spots.

    Terrific book, though.

  8. Jason Soon
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    that was meant to be an indirect allusion to a piece of children’s literature as well as a welcome back btw. Last I heard from Boris he was at some conference helping us to find more oil or something (he mentioned this on an Open Forum). Good stuff.

  9. Boris
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes I am back from a long trip to the US and Russia, though yet to fully recover. I was astounded to see the completely new look of catallaxy.

    Yes my daughter was an advanced reader – and writer. Its all over now. Now she is studying law and journalism. Maybe trying to emulate you, SL in an abridged form:-).

  10. Posted October 28, 2006 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, yes, there’s a story about the ‘new look’. Jason and c8to can fill you in better than me.

  11. Jason Soon
    Posted October 28, 2006 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Our server crashed. That’s the long and short of it. We’ve moved to a different service.

  12. Posted October 29, 2006 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    sl, you should definitely watch the movie. I’m biased though, I used to go to school with Shia Labeouf, the guy who plays the lead character.

  13. Posted October 29, 2006 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I just looked him up on Wikipedia. You must have gone to some school, Sukrit!

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