I recently finished both reading and watching the film adaptation of ‘Red Sparrow’, written by Jason Matthews. The main character; Dominika Egorova, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and Nate Nash played by Joel Edgerton.
Like many of the books I own, I had this book on my ‘TBR” (To Be Read) pile for a while. I first heard of it, and I hate admitting this, when it came out at the cinema. And, I refused to watch the film before I read the book… which I now slightly regret!
Warning: Book/Film spoilers!
What’s the synopsis?
The story is about a young Russian woman called Dominika who is sucked into Russian Intelligence by her uncle. She has a devistating injury which stops her dream of being a ballerina and due to her mum’s ill health, she ends up taking a job her uncle organises and gets sucked into the life. She is forced into a special school, and becomes what is called a ‘Sparrow’; trained in sexpionage. She is then put to work to uncover the mole in the Russian Intelligence, this is where she meets Nate Nash; CIA.
What did I think about the book?
My first impression, when I think back to the book, and how I would describe it to someone else; difficult to read. Although I do find the story interesting; a mixture of spy-thriller and romance (to a point), I actually had difficulty going back to finish it.
I would find myself putting it down after reading it, and sometimes I would take a few weeks to get back to it. This happened a few times, so much so that it took me quite a few months to finish it. And yes, okay, I was completing a MSc at the same time, and then moved house, and had other commitments and hobbies around that. But I found myself wanting to do other things rather than reading that book. Although, I found myself conflicted on occasion because when I got back to reading it, I did enjoy it in some ways. I did find myself wanting to know what happened next.
But the writing style seemed a little… off. At first I didn’t know how to put my finger on it. Some sentences didn’t flow right, or I struggled to understand what was going on. I then realised after getting quite a way into the book that there was a lot of ‘and then this happened, and then that happened, and then… and then…’ which really put me off.
I also felt a little nervous about the author’s portrayal of Russia, especially since President Putin was actually mentioned in it. I have a few international friends and I felt guilty reading the book and worrying what any Russian friends (and fans) might think of me for reading such a book. I understand there is a lot of ‘bad blood’ with Russia, and Putin in particular, but I felt like it was deliberately attacking Russia needlessly. Saying that, I did speak to one Russian person while reading it and they were actually interested in reading the book themselves.
As for things I did enjoy, I did like the depth to Dominika’s character, her motivation to do well and support her mother, and her conflicting relationship to her own country. I also enjoyed the relationship she started to have with other characters; including Nate. Their relationship was clearly more than business, yet complex, like most relationships should be, especially in their situation.
I also enjoyed the little chapter endings with recipes. I started to realise that they were based off what was mentioned in the chapter and then I started to look out for the different foods, to see what would next be mentioned at the end of the chapter. Some even sounded interesting enough for me to want to try them. Although, I will admit, they were a little weird at first, and I found them a little pointless, but I grew to like them, figuring it was just the author’s little quirk.
And I enjoyed some of the clever ideas within the story, such as the diversion stories that were used to find the mole in the Russian Intelligence and how that played out further in the book and the way Boucher, the US Chief of Staff/Senator was killed.
What did I think about the film?
Personally, I was actually dissapointed with the film. More so than the book.
Earlier in my post I said how I slightly regret reading the book before watching the film, and this is because there was so much that was both left out and changed! A friend once said to me that he prefers watching the film first, then reading the book, because then you get to see all the extra bits that you didn’t see in the film. Although, a part of me worries that I wouldn’t be committed to reading the book because I already know what happens.
Every bookaholic’s nightmare is having things missing from the film, but I personally understand some things need to be left out because it isn’t possible to fit it all in to a 2-3 hour movie. But due to some of the things that had been left out, the plot had not only changed, but the film didn’t seem to flow right.
One of my favourite parts (mostly because I actually understood what was going on, as the book was so difficult to read!), the little diversion stories, wasn’t in the film! Boucher’s death was also completely different, I mean, yes there were American CIA operatives there (in the book they closed in on her too quickly), in the film she was hit by a truck, but in the film she used a specially adapted pen to administer a poison. She took control of her own death in the book, which I feel was an integral part of her character.
I also noticed that Dominika bleaches her hair (I won’t even go into how difficult it is to bleach your hair that blonde without a professional…). In the book, she doesn’t change her hair colour; she is always her natural brown self. I think, in the film, she does it because she realises that Nate likes blonde women, and what better way to get his attention in the beginning but be the woman he is attracted to.
But I personally think that is a little discriminating; suggesting the age-old belief that men only like blonde women. I feel offended on behalf of men. Why change this in the film, when it’s not in the book? I’m going to assume it had something to do with Jennifer Lawrence and the fact she is a natural blonde.
One of the things that I was really looking forward to seeing portrayed in the film was Dominika’s synesthesia (basic way for me to explain it, she was able to see colours like it was another sense). I found it a really interesting twist in the book; she was able to work out when people were lying to her, when they were being honest, etc. It’s one of the reasons why she was such a brilliant spy. But it wasn’t even mentioned in the film. I know it could have been a difficult thing to portray, but I felt like it was a key part to her character.
And lastly, the ending. In the book, the end was when they made a deal to swap Dominika with the mole; MARBLE, but the Russian’s never intended to let MARBLE go and thus killed him, leaving the ending on a cliffhanger, what happens to Dominika? But, in the film, MARBLE wasn’t anywhere to be seen and instead Dominika ratted out her own Uncle as the mole, which lead to him being killed. It was a clever ending, I will agree. It gave Dominika the look that she was in control, she was a powerful and clever woman. You could argue it was better than the book, and I agree, thinking back at it, but at the time I was deeply disturbed at the change… I just hope that the author was quite happy with this change! I also wonder how this change will impact the next book/film (yes, there are other books, but I’m unsure if they’ll make a second film!)
However, I enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal as Dominika, I thought she was a really good fit for the character. Some scenes were also done really well, such as when Matorin found Nate and Dominika, the little double-agent scene even had me fooled for a few minutes. I also warmed up to Joel Edgerton as Nate in the end, although I feel as if other actors probably would have been a better fit as I felt Joel was a little too stern. I know he was a spy and had to be professional, but I felt his character in the book was a tiny bit softer.
How many stars do I give it?
The book, I give 3.5 out of 5. Although it was refreshing to have well developed characters, and an interesting plot, but the style of writing really let it down.
The film, however, I give 3 out of 5. The changes in the story let it down, making it confusing, and I dislike that they thought it a good idea to change the character’s hair colour when the book doesn’t have this.
Food Picture: www.woodenspoonskitchen.com/2013/01/08/food-photography-backgroundnatural-lighting/
Book to Film cartoon: www.cartoonstock.com/directory/f/film_adaptation.asp
Jennifer Lawrence Picture: www.bustle.com/p/in-jennifer-lawrences-red-sparrow-a-woman-must-be-raped-before-she-can-be-strong-8342129
Gold star cartoon: www.vippng.com/preview/oohxJR_star-smiley-face-cartoon-stars-with-faces/
Please do give this post a like, and feel free to comment. What did you guys think of the film and/or book? Do you have any suggestions of book/film adaptations?
And, don’t forget to check out my other posts.
I did another book review a while ago, please check it out here!