on 14 September 2001
I read this years and years ago - and I could not put it down. Look at the world through the eyes of someone with a different viewpoint. Imagine a world where you didn't understand innuendo and sarcasm. Try and believe in a man who is entirely honest, with no understanding of pretence, and no pretence of understanding. That is Chance, the gardener, who's only experience of the world is through the TV - who became Chauncey Gardiner, mover, shaker and advisor to the President. This story is dark, and left me re-examining my view of the world. They made a film of this with Peter Sellers, and nobody really understood the simple humour and the painful observation of us all that made this story a classic. No-one but Sellers could have done it justice. The comparison with Forrest Gump is inescapable - but you have to read this one to make it really work.
on 25 February 2008
Succinct, pithy, brilliant. An earlier review gives the plot outline so I won't repeat it. I saw the film, then read the book, then saw the film again. Apparently Kosinski wrote this book, and then went through it meticulously deleting every line that wasn't absolutely necessary. Hence this is short, to the point, almost a novella, but nothing is missed. A truly superb fable for our time, for any time perhaps, about the danger of assumption and the fact that people fundamentally want to be told the truth.
on 21 November 2013
I first became aware of this book as the basis for the remarkable film starring Peter Sellers and Melvyn Douglas. Kosinski's book, however, is just as remarkable in its own right.
The hero of the book is Chance, a mentally retarded adult who works as the gardener at the home of a wealthy retired New York lawyer. During the whole of his adult life, Chance has never left the house and garden; his only contact with the outside world is through television, which he watches obsessively. His life changes, however, when his employer dies, the house is sold and he is forced to leave. Chance is slightly injured when he is hit by a car belonging to Elizabeth Eve ("EE"), the wife of Benjamin Rand, a rich and influential Wall Street financier and a friend of the President. EE, mishearing "Chance the gardener" as "Chauncey Gardiner" and mistakenly believing Chance to be a successful businessman, invites him to stay with her and her husband at their home. A series of misunderstandings leads all concerned to believe that Chance is not only a businessman but also an economic prophet. He is invited to speak on national television where he talks about the only thing he understands, gardening. A series of platitudes about the changing of the seasons in the garden is taken to be an extended metaphor forecasting an upturn in the economy, and his supposed optimism strikes a chord with the viewing public. The book ends with the elderly, terminally ill, Rand about to name Chance as his heir and successor, and the President about to nominate him as his vice-presidential running-mate.
The book is short, a novella rather than a novel, of around 100 pages. The style is direct, simple and like a fable. It has been interpreted as a satire on the role of television in the modern age or on the American political system. Those elements are certainly present and were emphasised more in the film than in the book. (In Britain the film was widely taken to be a direct attack on the Reagan administration, even though it was actually made during the Carter years but not released here until after the presidential election). The significance of the book, however, is a deeper one.
In the film, Peter Sellers portrayed Chance as a lonely, pitiable character in late middle age, young only by comparison with his aged employer and the ageing Rand. It is an affecting performance, but subtly different from the Chance of Kosinski's book. Kosinski's Chance is relatively young, good-looking and emotionally detached from his surroundings. This detachment allows others to treat him as what in German would be called a Wunschbild, that is to say a picture of one's wishes, a blank canvas onto which one can paint one's own desires. Each of the other characters sees in the supposed Chauncey Gardiner whatever he or she wishes to see. Rand, who has no children with EE and who is estranged from the children of his first marriage, sees him as a potential successor to his business empire and almost as an adopted son. EE, sexually frustrated in a marriage to a much older man, sees him as a lover and a possible second husband after Rand's death. The President sees him as the ideal candidate for Vice-President, a position he has been struggling to fill. The Soviet Ambassador to the UN sees him as a liberal, Russophile capitalist who will use his influence to further east-west relations. The American TV audience see him as the man who will lead them out of recession and into prosperity.
The book certainly is, in part, a commentary on the television age. It certainly is, in part, a political satire. (We can all think of politicians who have the ability to be all things to all men). Most importantly, however, it is a brilliant fable on the human capacity for self-delusion and for seeing others not for what they are but for what we would wish them to be.
on 17 May 2012
This is the first book that I have read after seeing a movie, a movie that I have seen many times which I qualify as one of my all time favourites, and I must say what an enlightenment, the book takes us through a very similar journey but through the eyes of Gardener without the slapstick element, I now rate the book more highly than the movie
Being There------If you enjoyed the Movie you will love this book
on 23 October 2014
It's a gentle book about witnesses, integrity and power. Something of the Emperor's New Clothes, this clever, sly novella pulls all of its punches to show the absurdity of modern society (well 1970's America).
on 13 July 2014
Good book, great story, easy to read for a non-native speaker. In comparison to the film, I prefer this simple ending description of the book. Sounds more real to me than the walking on water in the film. Highly recommendable read with am important message about life.
on 27 September 2010
NOTE: A longer version, with spoilers, can be read by clicking on the comments section at the end of this review.
Being There is one of my all time favourite films. I seem to watch it at least once a year, and I usually see it as part of a trilogy of idiots along with two Bill Murray films called The Man Who Knew Too Little and What About Bob?
The book is a very slim novella of less than 100 pages long, and written in a minimalist, not a word wasted style. The film script (written by the author) is much expanded from this bare-bones story and as such is in the strange position of being a deeper, more detailed, more complex, more clever and more thematically richer experience than the source book. The novella is good and worth reading but the film overshadows it completely. There is nothing extra in the book that didn't make it onto the screen, with perhaps the exception of the Soviet side at the end. The film might have benefitted from including the extra material of the Russian ambassador quoting Chance in a speech ("Our chairs are almost touching") and his embassy's attempts to get information on him. Having said that, it was non-essential stuff that just doubles the American secret service side of the story to no important effect.
It's a good book (3 out of 5 stars) but the film is superior (5 out of 5 stars) as it's much more detailed.
on 5 September 2013
Unfortunately, the writer didn't seem to take his time finishing and polishing his story, which is full of potential and very interesting in places. Fortunately, Kosinski wrote the screenplay, elaborating on ideas that were only nascent in the book. Worth a read, but the film (starring Peter Sellers!) is much better and more complete.