Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: The Graduate, by Charles Webb

I was browsing the shelves in my local library, as I like to do quite often, looking out for 'the one' (aka the perfect book for me to read at that specific moment in time). After much browsing, and just as I was losing all hope of ever finding my 'one', I spotted Webb's The Graduate out of the corner of my eye.

It was hanging out all cool and nonchalant on the shelves, much like in the depiction below.

It was so chilled that I genuinely don't think it would have minded if I simply walked past it; but its quiet confidence was too tempting for me to resist (don't worry, I wasn't bothering it with my attention - in fact, I think it was secretly chuffed by it).

So, as I've done many times before, I thought, 'I'm going to read your blurb to see if I want to take our relationship further.' And so I did. And its blurb promised all I needed for a highly entertaining and provocative read; I knew I'd be in for a treat. I love a bit of a risque read now and again*, and The Graduate delivered in every way!

In short

Set in 1960s suburban America, this is the story of Benjamin, a freshly graduated student from college who feels deeply disillusioned about the ‘American Dream’ and all that it has promised. For, despite being a high achieving student, Ben is struggling to come to terms with the purpose of anything in life and everything he’s been made to consider important; such as education, money, security and status in society.

Until Mrs. Robinson, his father's business partner's wife, comes along. And they have an affair together. Throughout which Ben feels rather conflicted. So he decides to put an end to it. And then both he and Mrs. Robinson behave even more ridiculously. All of which is very entertaining to read.

Nevertheless throughout The Graduate, Ben remains a mystery to his readers; we still hardly know him by the end of the novel. As such it is difficult to sympathise with him entirely.

However, though Ben is a deeply conflicted character and seemingly unstable, there is something that just draws you in to wanting to know more about him and what trouble he will get himself into. It’s almost like watching a car-crash in slow motion – you know that the ending will be disturbing, but you just can’t look away. As such, it’s a highly entertaining and delightful read! 

In three adjectives

Sardonic. Droll. Naughty. 

What I liked
  • Benjamin - there's just something about his brooding nature that I can't get enough of!

  • Mrs. Robinson – she’s so cheeky!
  • The representation of mundane American suburban life in the 60s. As much as the 60s was a time of excitement and revolution for many social groups, there were also plenty of people living ordinary and banal lives, and their stories can be just as rich and entertaining for me as the former

What irked me
  • Benjamin’s obsession with Elaine – it’s slightly creepy 

  • Mrs. Robinson; when she becomes bitterly jealous of Ben’s romantic interests in Elaine and tells spiteful lies

You will like this if you enjoy reading
  • Witty, dry humour 
  • The acknowledgement of the bleak reality of life
  • Books that blur the lines between what’s right and wrong and expose the flaws of all of its characters 

Other representations

Mike Nichols’ 1967 film adaptation, The Graduate

Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson**

*Of the risque books I have read, Nabokov's Lolita is currently the only exception for me - that book proper creeped me out!

**FUN! FACT:  This song was originally written as 'Mrs. Roosevelt', presumably after Eleanor Roosevelt. However, Nichols was such a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel that he asked for it to be changed to Mrs. Robinson instead. ALSO, the song as we know it today wasn't written in its entirety when the motion picture was released either, but was completed upon its success.

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