Like many, I was drawn to the idea of reading Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook after seeing the recently released film adaptation, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. It is a quirky comedy about two individuals recovering from mental illnesses banding together to compete in a dance competition. As the story progresses, they find friendship and love with each other. In that sense, the book and the film share similar plot lines, but I came to discover that many of the events that made the film so entertaining don’t actually occur in the book (Pat’s father’s attempts to open a restaurant and the gamble he takes on his son’s dancing skills, for example). Nevertheless, fans of the film shouldn’t be put off – I enjoyed both, even if I feel that they are essentially two different stories.
What is present in the film but absent in the novel is made up for by the narrative voice of Pat Peoples, the central character. The dire situation that he is trapped when he moves back to his parent’s house after a stay in a mental institution is at times painful to bear witness to: once an independent high school teacher, he is totally infantilised by his mother, who buys his clothes and gives him pocket money, all the while struggling with the stigma attached to mental illness. His preoccupations with fitness and winning back his cheating wife are likewise heart-breaking, but only go to show how delicate his state of mind is. One of the novel’s greatest strengths, Pat’s voice ensures that the reader is carried along on the emotional journey he is going through.
Sadly, this engrossing complexity is missing from other aspects of Quick’s prose. ‘Young Adult’ novels are referenced throughout, and at times the simplicity of the storyline and the uncanny knack things have for falling into place can be gratingly twee. While it would be a great book to get teenagers interested in reading, I found it unchallenging. However, that was perhaps why I managed to read it while completing my dissertation. If only that had been so easy to breeze through!