Nora Johnson, 1958, 223 p.
—————————————————————————————————————————————Before I get started on this critique, I’d like to mention a dream I had last night about Sarah Palin. That’s right—I dreamt about every intelligent woman’s worst nightmare; S. P., the gun totin’, moose murderin’, polar bear hatin’, book bannin’, baby breedin’ “hockey mom.” The most nightmarish part of the entire dream was that she was nice and I adored her. I was in the hospital and Sarah was my nurse. She rubbed sticky lotion on my back and then gently peeled it off. This made me become limp and giggly with pleasure. After the peeling was over, she handed me a gigantic purple fruit roll-up to munch on. I was so overwhelmed by her generosity that I nearly cried. Please tell me this didn’t have sexual connotations! I think I need to be thrown into a padded cell immediately!
Now, on to the novel:
I was browsing in my Kindle store about a month ago when I happened upon The World of Henry Orient. The movie is one of my all-time favorites, so of course I had to buy the book. I didn’t even know it was a book, so I was overjoyed at this discovery. What good fortune! I downloaded it and started reading immediately.
The first thing that struck me was that the book was NOTHING like the movie. The movie is a sweet little comedy. The book is a serious little gem.
And that’s the second thing that struck me: The World of Henry Orient is very good. I was so enthralled that I whizzed through it in no time. The story centers around two prepubescent girls who attend an exclusive and very class-conscious Manhattan private school. They are both outcasts. Gil (the normal one) is ostracised because she’s the new girl and comes from a middle-class “broken” family. Val (the mental one) is shunned because she’s an odd creative genius. The two girls find each other, and the rest of the novel focuses on their friendship and their relationships with parents and classmates.
I was shocked to find that the novel had such a dark side, especially since it was written for a 1950’s teen audience. The major theme of The World of Henry Orient is jealousy. For awhile, Gil is so jealous of Val that her envy almost destroys their friendship. Val’s mother is so jealous of her daughter that she tries to sabotage everything that is important to Val, especially her friendship with Gil. I felt such compassion for Val in this novel. She was being hammered on all sides, and, being a child, lacked the necessary coping skills to deal with all the stress. It seemed like everyone was intentionally driving her crazy, including her psychiatrist.
Ms. Johnson did an excellent job with character development in The World of Henry Orient. My favorite character was Boothy, who lived with Gil and her mother. She was insightful and humorous, and she was the only person who really understood Val. My least favorite character was, of course, Val’s mother (Emma Boyd). I don’t think I’ve despised a character so much since my teen years, when I developed a lifelong murderous hatred for Mrs. Danvers of Rebecca fame!
One thing that was disappointing about the Kindle edition of this novel were all the typos and grammatical errors. This is the first time I’ve run into this in a Kindle book. It got so it was almost funny; by the end I was amused when I’d find words like “callled” and “misunderstandnig.” I should have kept count because there must have been over a hundred misspellings and typographical errors!
As mentioned above, the movie version of The World of Henry Orient is one of my favorite comedies.
It’s funny and sweet, and the cinematography is great. It was director George Roy Hill’s (The Sting, Butch Cassidy…) first big directing job, and he did it very well. It was also Nora Johnson’s first and only screen adaptation. The girls who play Gil and Val are wonderful, and Peter Sellers is hilarious as Henry Orient. There is no jealousy in this film; the girls love each other, and Val’s mom (Angela Lansbury) is depicted as an insipid slut. The role of Henry Orient was expanded in the film to suit Peter Sellers, who was at the top of his game at the time.
Here’s a clip I found on youtube:
I did some research and found out that Merrie Spaeth (Gil) is a rather powerful member of the Republican Party. She’s a fervent Dubya supporter, and she worked for Ken Starr during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That’s too bad because she was such a cute kid! Tippy Walker (Val) acted in a few more films and then kind of disappeared into obscurity.
One last thing before I go…I’ve purchased two DVD’s of The World of Henry Orient to give away. If you’d like to own a copy of the film, leave me a comment. As usual, I’ll draw names. I’ll do the deed around noon on Monday, October 6th.