Monday, 4 November 2013

REVIEW: 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

After years of reading texts for my degree I was recently finally able to indulge in reading purely for pleasure, and ventured into my local bookshop with the burning desire to purchase the entire stock. This, unfortunately, was not possible – but I was able to pick two books to rekindle my love affair with fiction once more.

After asking friends on Facebook and twitter for recommendations,  and wanting to take a breather from the heavy classics for a few months, I fell for Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower  and Lauren Weisberger’s Revenge Wears Prada. Watch out for my thoughts on Weisberger’s offering at a later date – but for now I’d like to focus on Chbosky’s offering!
I’d heard a lot about this book from many different people, so I had very high hopes. Having refrained from watching the recent film adaptation, I wanted to read the original text first before spending the night with Emma Watson et al. I had no idea what the story was as I’d been fortunate enough to stay away from any revealing blog posts, twitter feeds and book reviews. So needless to say I went into reading this book completely unaware of what to expect.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I thought at the very beginning, though I found Chbosky’s writing  beautiful and emotionally charged; he has an acute way of capturing anxiety and emotion without using excessively floral language. I think ‘normal’ is the best way to describe it for me, and it depicted the protagonist very well. Nevertheless, I was hooked, and found that I became more and more involved as the book went on. 

Chbosky’s book involves the life and trials of Charlie as he enters into the world of young adulthood after starting High School. Our beloved Wikipedia describes it as a ‘coming-of-age epistolary novel’, which involves the reader following him through experimentation, sexual exploration and emotional struggles.  Charlie’s adolescent confusion is depicted by Chbosky in such a simple way,  yet there is a depth to Charlie’s narration, despite his simplistic and honest tone. The characters are very believable and, at the same time, unusual, and the web of relationships both romantic and platonic reflect the twists and turns of real life.

As the title suggests, Charlie is a wallflower; an observer. However, it seems to me that Chbosky is not only labelling Charlie, but also the reader. As the reader, or the recipient of Charlie’s letters, I felt as though I was watching his life from a distance – unable to change anything, but noticing all the details and particulars of every-day things which would normally remain unnoticed to the average passer-by. We are able to assess Charlie as Charlie assesses his own peers.

The epistolary nature of the book really reminded me of the countless classics I read for my degree. The epistolary novel was popular back in the eighteenth century and was a fantastic way of assessing and exploring society and its faults in its (supposedly) everyday glory. Perks really is a modern classic; bringing traditional literary technique into the present day.

However, it is the very powerful ending which made me realise why there has been so much hype around this particular work of fiction. Chbosky really hits the reader with some very strong emotions and I was left reeling for a number of days. This alone has made me eager to re-read the book – just weeks after finishing it for the first time. I can really see why people have been urging me to read the book. However, one friend said she found the film to be much more emotional since she was affected by Charlie ‘constantly sobbing’. I don’t feel this is especially strong in the book until the end – and am very interested to see the film to really see how the book can be interpreted.

Perks isn’t too long- it seems to be perfect for anybody who, like me, is intrigued by other people’s reading choices, or those who want something new. However, do not be fooled by the length of the book– it will draw you in and leave you turning the events over in your mind long after the final page has been closed.


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