Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I began this book with really quite high expectations; reviewers on the internet were raving about it, friends were raving about it, and it was being made into a film. It had everything going for it. But, in the end, I found it quite underwhelming. The basic plot is of 'wallflower' Charlie, who isn't the biggest geek but has no friends since his friend committed suicide in the summer. That is, no friends until he meets Sam and Patrick who soon become his best friends in a world of "sex, drugs and the Rocky Horror Picture Show".
It was written well, there's no doubting that, and some of the quotes are just fantastic: "we accept the love we think we deserve" and "in that moment I swear we were infinite" being the most memorable. But other than that the book really was quite forgettable. 
I think part of the problem was the stereotypical and really quite boring characters. I'm not sure if Charlie, the main character, had a mental illness or if he was simply suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as it has been suggested by some readers, the possibility for which is explained at the end of the book. However, if Charlie does have some kind of disorder, it's not put well enough to make it clear - I also can't help but make comparisons with 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' by Mark Haddon, which, in my opinion, is written far better.
But it wasn't just the main character I had a problem with, I just didn't particularly like Patrick and Sam, Charlie's best friends; anything that happened to them, I just didn't care, the characters had no effect on me whatsoever. They were stereotypical teenagers with nothing special about them to set them apart and make them interesting subjects for a book. For me it's normal if the characters in a story stay with me for at least a day after the end of the book, but, in this case, within 2 hours of finishing I'd forgotten that I'd even read the book until I saw it on my desk - never a good sign. 
I also thought the ending was very rushed, the reason for Charlie's difficulties in life is quickly and ambiguously alluded to a page from the end, and due to the fact that the reveal isn't explicit many readers have said they miss this completely. To be fair, I do think it is pretty hard to miss when you're paying attention, but  honestly there wasn't much going on so it is quite easy for your attention to drift. Here, the format of the book became a problem. It is written through a series of letters from Charlie which are addressed 'Dear friend' and so to begin with it can be assumed he is writing in a diary, but at the end it becomes clear this is not the case. Anyway, that Charlie is writing the letters means that, unlike if the book was written in first person narrative with an all-knowing persona speaking, the whole story cannot be revealed to the reader, although I suppose it was a more original idea and allows more room for different interpretations. 
Additionally, I didn't find inside the book what was implied by the title.What exactly are the perks of being a wallflower? The whole book is based around Charlie's moving away from this idea, and since he was considering suicide at this point I don't think there were many perks. The overall message I took from the book was the need for everybody to "participate" in life, so I don't really understand why we are told there are any perks to being a wallflower. Unless, of course, Sam and Patrick are also to be considered wallflowers, but I find this a difficult idea to get my head around as they are popular and 'normal' teenagers.

I have to say, though, the film does look quite good - it was part of the reason for me wanting to read the book - and the screenplay was written by the book's author and I believe it was directed by him too, so I am planning to watch that and hopefully it will be better than the frankly disappointing book.

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