Nicholas Sparks,
The Notebook
(Time Warner, 2004)

From the first time you meet The Notebook's main characters, Allie Nelson and Noah Calhoun, you either recognize them immediately or wish you did. They are ordinary people, who perhaps could be overshadowed by the grand adventures of others. Yet this intimate look into their souls reveals an adventure of a quiet sort, a brave leap into love.

This really is a remarkable love story. There is very little drama, only a deepening belief that the two are soul mates and the path they take to this realization. They are both kind and thoughtful, enjoying painting and poetry. Nothing makes each of them happier than the company of the other.

How do you fill a novel with nothing more than the story of two people falling in love? You treat that process as the miracle that it is, and honor its endurance. This is what Nicholas Sparks has done, taking us from the meeting between Noah and Allie in the 1930s through their last days more than 50 years later.

It is a gentle story of caring, and responsibility. The responsibility that partners take on when they marry is significant, and it is both compelling and reassuring to listen to a tale of never-wavering devotion.

In an interview following the novel, Sparks explains that the inspiration for the story came from his own wife, whose grandparents' lives are echoed here. Sparks says he changed the story somewhat "to make the story more universal, while staying committed to my intent."

Though he also claims a tasteful love scene as one of the reasons for the book's popularity, in this I have to disagree. That scene is among my very few dislikes here, and I found it to be not only graphic in an uncomfortably detailed way, but also longer than might be necessary to make the point.

I can't vouch for what Sparks says is another benefit, the brevity of the book itself. I am considering the audio version, which is six hours in length, and actually took several long drives to complete. I can say that the plot held my attention throughout, and had I been reading it in book form, I may have done a marathon and finished in one sitting.

Barry Bostwick is excellent as narrator, his voice soft and tender for whispered endearments, or strong and confident, giving Noah the sound of a man who can be relied on forever. Bostwick also avoids that horrible mistake so many make when reading aloud, giving women preposterously high voices that distract terribly from the story. Allie is instead blessed with a gentle voice, slightly higher in register than Noah, but not unrealistically so.

In addition to selling well as a novel, the story has been scooped up by New Line Cinema; a movie starring Ryan Gosling and Gena Rowlings will be out in June of this year. I hope the romance will play as well in action, as it does in this telling.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 29 May 2004

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