Winter’s Bone: Daniel Woodrell

I may start by saying that I loved this book. And I was surprised – I don’t generally pick up anything that is billed as a ‘thriller’, nor do I particularly like to think of myself as someone who enjoys bleakness for the sake of bleakness.. However, this unforgivingly bleak thriller carried me with it all the way. I think the key here is Woodrell’s striking and at times breathtaking prose. He has a style which is truly unique and postmodern in its use of language and word association. The title itself – ‘Winter’s Bone’ – betrays this; it’s layers of meaning constantly falling away to reveal alternate possibilities. Chilling, essential, hardness, death… and more are suggested before you turn to page one.

I hold up my hands and say at this point that the only reason I picked this book up off the shelves of a local charity shop is because I heard the film was excellent, and I knew I wanted to see it, so I thought I had better read the book first (having now discovered that there was a book first). For the record, the film is excellent, but I did find it a lot slower-paced than the book – relying on suspense and landscape a lot more than the storyline; presumably (as is so often the case when good fiction is translated into film) because the plot is too convoluted and subtle to portray in the allotted time. A lot of the more complex relationships between characters – which in my opinion make the book – are left out altogether, and the drug references and violence are a very pale reflection of what occurs in the book. I wonder why this is? It seems as though, if you were committed to making a film of this book, those things that drive the plot and increase the sense of imminent danger ought to be central. I can only think that the film-makers chose to focus instead on the strength of character of Ree Dolly, the main protagonist.

Indeed, it is Ree who captures the reader’s attention in the book for her steeliness and unwavering lack of sentimentality/girlishness. How refreshing to see a heroine like this.

The accents of the Ozarks are brilliantly set out in the text, and the narrative forms itself around this mumbled drawling speech of its characters. The coarseness of the accent and the language is complemented by the grit of the subject matter – nothing is too down-and-dirty for our attention, and this is part of what gives the novel it’s charm and hyper-realism. Not only are you there in the car when a nappy is being changed during a car chase in the middle of the freezing night; you are ducking to avoid the hand covered in faeces as the car swerves in the road. Gripping, if disgusting, stuff.

In short: fascinating and masterful use of language and a clear expertise in his subject matter makes Woodrell’s depiction of grisly events in the Ozarks a truly enjoyable – if grim – read.

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