Review: Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine

Today’s review is of the book Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine, and the film it inspired: Mrs Doubtfire.

courtesy of annefine.co.uk

What it’s about (taken from the author’s website): Lydia, Christopher and Natalie Hilliard are used to domestic turmoil and have been torn between their warring parents ever since the divorce. That all changes when their mother takes on a most unusual cleaning lady. But there’s more to Madame Doubtfire than domestic talents.

Holly’s review: This book is about three children whose parents are divorced. When the mum decides to get a house minder to look after the children and won’t let Daniel the dad look after them, well that’s when Madame Doubtfire comes along. I liked this book because it is funny but also it has some inappropriate language which I think would make me say that children below the age of eight shouldn’t read this book. I think it is more for an older child – for example, there are a lot of fights in the book between the parents or the parents say nasty things or act nastily towards each other. In conclusion I think this is a good book even if there is bad language in it because it is funny and exciting because of what happens when Madame Doubtfire goes to work as a child minder. But don’t let me say too much or I will spoil the surprise.

When I watched the film of Madame Doubtfire (aka Mrs Doubtfire) I think I liked it slightly better because they changed it and I liked how they changed it. I don’t usually prefer the film to a book but I did with this one.

Sam’s review: I must admit that I first came to this story from the film and as an adult, having not known about the book. Therefore, when I saw it in the library, I got it out for Holly, remembering how the film, despite its sad subject matter, made me laugh. I was quite surprised and rather shocked by the very different tone in the novel. Anne Fine does warn on her website that it is a book for older readers and I can see why – as Holly said in her review, there is a lot of fighting between the parents and the language is rather ripe in some of the passages, though certainly nothing offensive and I am sure many younger children nowadays – 16 years after its initial publication – will have heard all the words before. But what really made me feel uneasy reading this with Holly (aged 10) was the vitriol between the mum and dad. This of course is entirely realistic in the situation and I am not condemning Anne Fine for it at all, especially in light of this perhaps being more suitable for children older than Holly. I would argue that ten would be the absolute minimum age for children to read this at, not eight, as I think the subject matter is not so easily understood by younger children who might just find it all distressing – I must admit to squirming when reading certain passages.

Anne Fine has done a marvellous job capturing the emotional turmoil of a family caught up in the intensity of divorce. The humour provides a relief from discomfort but even that at times doesn’t come across as easily as in the film, which has its visual nature on its side. The film felt less bitter, no doubt so that younger children could enjoy the content and I think this is where the two diverge: the book is for teenagers/young adults whereas the film is aimed at younger children and up. The book seeks to explore the raw emotions of divorce and the lengths a parent will go to in order to see their children. The film does this too but it relies more heavily perhaps on humour to lighten the mood (whereas I think Anne Fine wanted to explore the emotional depths more). Like Holly, I preferred the film, which tended to play on sadness rather than bitterness in its more emotional moments, but perhaps that is because I find the subject matter difficult to deal with anyway and the film provides more of a comfort blanket.

Madame Doubtfire is a good book but needs to be approached as a young adult book, as Anne Fine originally intended.

 

Have you read Madame Doubtfire or seen the film? What did you think about either or both?

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