An Education – See the film, read the book

Usually I always read the book before the film, but in the case of An Education by Lynn Barber, I saw the film on DVD first. In this case it didn’t matter, for the events that were adapted for the film, composed just a chapter in her memoir.  It was originally written as an article for Granta magazine and later formed the basis of the book.

First to the film, which has been much lauded and justifiably so.   Nick Hornby’s script really did seem to get under a bright sixteen year old’s skin, it was both extremely funny and touching when it needed to be.   It must have seemed to be a wonderful adventure, when an older man takes an interest in you and manages to seduce your parents too.  Carey Mulligan was marvellous as the teenager Jenny rebelling against her parents only to find them supporting her in it, although they didn’t really know what she got up to.  Peter Saarsgard was perfect as the older man with a veneer of sophistication, but a dodgy life.  The other supporting actors were wonderful too, Alfred Molina’s puffed up father, Emma Thompson’s scene-stealing headmistress, Rosamund Pike’s beautiful but dim floosie, and Olivia Williams as the lonely English teacher who gets Jenny through her exams.  The Soundtrack was also excellent, including Floyd Cramer, Billy Fury, Juliette Greco and Mel Tormé along with Duffy and Madeleine Peyroux sounding equally at home in the 60s.

You know that that affair was doomed from the outset, but luckily Barber got through it and has gone on to have a long and fascinating career in journalism after going to Oxford.  She tells us how her adventures as a teenager coloured her life ever after, she found it hard to trust people and flitted from bed to bed for some time before meeting ‘the one’, David who would be her rock all the way from Oxford until he died a few years ago.

Barber went on to work for the fledgling magazine Penthouse as features editor, which for a top-shelf mag then was a very different animal to those of today, and actually had proper articles and book extracts along with the lovelies.  She moved to the Express and then to the new Independent on Sunday and it was here that she earned the epithet of ‘Demon Barber’ with her in depth interviews and she says,

I’m still quite bemused by the Demon Barber reputation, I think it arises from the the fact that people remember the hatchet jobs more than they remember the friendly pieces. But whether this is because I write them better, or because of general Schadenfreude, I never know. The interviews I remember from the Independent on Sunday are the more thoughtful ones I did with Rudolf Nureyev, Roald Dahl, Muriel Spark, but they got less attention. The same thing happened again at the Observer – it was the hatchet jobs on, say, Harriet Harman, Marianne Faithfull or John Prescott that readers seemed to remember.

This memoir gives a great glimpse into features journalism by a mould-breaker. Barber is brutally honest and occasionally shocks, but also displays a great sense of humour and wit, combined with a deep love of her family which made it unputdownable. (8/10)

For other takes on the book / film, visit Dovegreyreader, or Bookbath


14 thoughts on “An Education – See the film, read the book

  1. I loved the film, and thought Carey Mulligan was quite wonderful – I predict big things for her. But when I saw it I didn’t realise there actually was a book, and I’ve got to say I didn’t immediately rush out and buy it. It seemed the sort of story which would work well in a film, but from the more subjective slant of a first-person book might just irritate me… not sure ‘brutally honest’ would work for me!

    • The film was just one chapter but you’re right it was wonderful.

      I suppose that being a bit older than you Simon (!) I’ve read more of Barber’s columns etc over the years and so I found her whole life interesting. The bit covered by the film was much funnier etc in the film though – but I loved both.

  2. I remember reading a lot of Lynn Barber’s interviews and enjoying them, mainly because they were such a refreshing antidote to the gushing ‘Hello’ style stuff and although she did have a go at some people, she didn’t pick on those who couldn’t fight back.
    I read the book and enjoyed it although I was amazed at how her parents had let her go off without a murmer with someone so obviously dodgy!
    Haven’t seen the film as yet but I’m sure that I will catch up with it one day although at the moment I’m still trying to get through Series 2 of Mad Men!

  3. Liz – you must see the film. He set out to seduce the parents too, so they were happy to let him take her out for educational visits!

    Love Mad Men! Sad series 3 has finished on the BBC.

  4. We actually have this one sitting on our entertainment unit, waiting to be watched! I’m really looking forward to it, and am glad to hear you found it so enjoyable.

    • I was a babe in the early 1960s when it was set, but it felt very authentic too. I hope you enjoy it as much.

  5. I was worried that the film would feel too – I don’t know, too exploitative? But Carey Mulligan played it so brilliantly, always like she was repressing a tiny smile at how absurd everything was. I’d love to read the book but my library hasn’t got it. *sigh*

    • Mulligan is destined for good things methinks. Comparing the film with Barber’s memoir, I think they caught her smartness with her rebellious spirit perfectly.

  6. I haven’t seen the film yet (or read the memoir), but I have high hopes. I’m glad to hear Nick Hornby is as good at writing scripts as he is at everything else!

  7. I think Nick made it a great for movie, Mulligan was excellent but other actors were very good too, great casting. I was disappointed when I realised it is not a complete fiction and try not to read more about real person behind the story. I haven’t read her articles as I am new in the UK but I am afraid that book is not ‘brutally honest’.

    • Hi vlabla, glad you enjoyed the film. Not sure from your comment whether you read the book or not. I felt she completely told it like it was!

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