Being There by Jerzy Kosiński
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I saw Hal Ashby's movie "Being There" about 20 years ago and I still remember the huge impression it made on me. Peter Sellers was magnificent as Chance the gardener. I have just finished reading Jerzy Kosinski's book, on which the movie is based, and I find the book much weaker than the movie.
Kosinski's short novella is a one-gimmick book: a simple gardener who has never been outside of his employer's residence, who knows first-hand only about gardening, who learns about people and the world from TV shows, and who is just being there, suddenly becomes a respected political pundit, whose opinions are sought by most prominent business leaders and politicians of the highest level. The entire book is devoted to the exposition of this one simple premise. It is a very short book (117 pages, paperback) yet a better writer would have created a richer literary structure, one with more depth. True, the original "joke" (the premise) is very funny, but the fun evaporates, when the same "joke" is retold time after time.
The novella is a satire on the power of people's preconceptions, on how we judge based on appearances, how a man named Chauncey must be wiser than one named Chance, and how we are controlled by what the media tell us. The target of Kosinski's satire is well chosen, but the implementation lacks; the writing is competent yet pedestrian, and already at about the middle of the book one gets the whole point that the author wanted to make, so why keep reading? I kept reading only to find out that there is nothing more there.
Film is a perfect medium to handle such a one-gimmick premise; the actors and the visuals supply the depth the text does not have. "Being There" - a wonderful movie and an OK book.
Two and a half stars.
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