If you’ve ever read a poem, a short story, an article or a book or seen a play, a photograph or a painting so evocative that you thought, “This should be a movie,” then you’ll know it’s often the first step towards the creation of something new and wonderful yet familiar and comfortable. Regardless of where the idea begins and where it ends up, after that first step there are several more that will help ensure that when using the source material of others, you do so with honesty and respect.
I saw the movie of this book several years ago so it’s one of those rare experiences for me in that I’m reading the book afterwards. Normally, I find that a challenge because I’m constantly anticipating what’s about to happen. That didn’t happen with this book because the movie is very different… and so much better.
The Silver Linings Playbook is narrated by Pat, who is living in “the bad place”, as he calls it. His mother is there to take him home after… is it months or years? Pat can’t tell. He can’t remember why he was living in the institution either. Pat only has one goal: to be reunited with his beloved wife, Nikki, by focusing on being kind instead of being right, reading great American literature and by keeping up his gruelling exercise regime. He feels he was unkind to her, didn’t involve himself enough in her interests and let himself go during their marriage and if he can only rectify these things, then Nikki will welcome him back with open arms and everything will be alright again. Because he believes in silver linings.
If ever there was a novel to break the “show, don’t tell” rule – willingly, completely, knowingly – this is it and this is the only novel that is likely to be able to get away with it. But getting away with it doesn’t automatically equal a great book. In this case, it equals a good one but not a great one.
Amy is a published author and academic who teaches a writing class at a local university. But her last book is a very long way behind her and the wannabee writers aren’t students, they are paying for an evening extension class. The participants include a doctor, a lawyer, a former child actress, a mildly infuriating feminist, a retired teacher and several others. Each week someone brings a piece of writing and the class spends time analysing it and provides written feedback to help the writer improve.
At first it’s like every other writing class Amy has ever taught. There are some good writers, there are some bad writers, there are some who aren’t writers at all and thought the class would be a good way to pick up women. But then one of the participants starts providing feedback that is anonymous and unnerving including cruelly parodying a poem, drawing crude images and using very bad language as well as crank calling Amy on the phone and whispering repeated phrases and sentences.
“Contemporary writers annoyed him, he found their worlds insular, their style self-conscious and ironic.”
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, page 331
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Except I would add the words “of literature” after “contemporary writers”. Contemporary writers of literature are a peculiar breed of writer who seem to think certain topics make their writing realistic and gritty. The reality is, however, that readers wonder why it is necessary to include them. Those topics include pooing, peeing and masturbation. Normal, everyday occurrences but also often distasteful, boring and unnecessary to the story being told.
Barracuda contains so many instances of pooing, peeing and masturbation that if they were taken out, the 513-page novel could probably have been reduced to a 213-page novel.
This is the final in my series of reviewing books I have already seen the movie adaptations of. The Sheep-Pig is, of course, the basis for the wonderful Australian film Babe. It tells the story of a piglet won at a fair in a weight-guessing competition by Farmer Hogget. The farmer calls him Pig but his mother called him and his brothers and sisters Babe, so that’s what all the other farm animals call him, including his adopted mother, Fly, the collie dog.
Fly is a working dog and soon Babe wonders why he can’t be a sheep-dog, too. She explains it’s because he’s a pig. “Why can’t I learn to be a sheep-pig?” he then asks. And when he saves the sheep flock from being stolen by sheep rustlers, Farmer Hogget begins taking Babe along when he and Fly round up the sheep. Eventually, Babe takes over many of Fly’s duties and she’s very proud of her adopted son, proving that a little pig can do anything he wants to do.
This is another book that I’ve already seen the movie of before reading it, before I even knew it was an adaptation, before I even knew there was a book. The more I read, the more I worried I was going to be left unsatisfied by it because it was exactly like the movie. The adaptation had been very faithful to the text. Usually that’s a good thing. But because I was reading the book after having seen the movie, I was looking for the differences, the details that can’t be replicated or demonstrated on film. I wanted a different experience, not the same one I had while watching the movie.
I got that and so much more. It’s not a perfect novel (it could be called slow) but it is so close that I can’t give it anything other than 5 stars, which anyone who reads my reviews and ratings will know is not something I do often. I’m a hard marker but this is a great book. This is a book that should be and will be read for decades to come. This is a book that should also be used as a teaching tool for all others wanting to write a book.
This is a book for a very particular time. That time is the years after the planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. Published in 2005, the backdrop of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is 911. The story spans the course of a year as nine-year-old Oskar Schell finds a key in his father’s wardrobe and then spends another year looking for the lock it belongs to.
Unfortunately, more than ten years since it was released, the fact of 911 isn’t enough to make it “heartbreaking”, “tragic” and “intensely moving”. The fact of 911 has faded into recent history (as all events do), but history nonetheless, and so we must look at the story and the writing itself for whether the book will stand the test of time. I have doubts.
This is the second in my series of reverse reviews, reading books I’ve seen and enjoyed the movie adaptations of.
Postcard from the Edge is the story of Suzanne Vale, a Los Angeles-based actress struggling with drug addiction and a so-so career. When we meet her, it’s day one of her thirty day stay in rehab and she’s keeping a diary at the suggestion of one of her counsellors. Through Suzanne’s diary, we also meet the other people she’s undertaking rehab with at the same time and none of them are all that important to the overall story.
I bought this book because I’m embarking on a reading challenge, which is to read a series of books that have been made into movies that I’ve already seen and thought were pretty good. Usually I find it hard to read a book if I’ve already seen the movie of it because I spend a lot of time doing comparisons. “That’s not what happened in the movie.” Or anticipating what’s about to happen. “This is the part where he gets shot.”
This is a book of James Thurber’s short stories, one of which is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. It was probably a good book to start this challenge with because the titular short story is only five pages long. It’s hard to get caught up with comparisons on such a short piece of text. In fact, apart from his name and the fact that Walter Mitty gets caught up in daydreams to alleviate the boredom of his life, there aren’t too many similarities between the short story and the movie starring Ben Stiller. But it’s a good short story.
The ultimate question in adaptation is whether something that is successful in one medium can be as successful in another. And there is no way of ever knowing the answer without going through the process.
There is no formula. There is no reasoning. It all comes down to chance with a lot of skill on the side. And sometimes it can come down to chance with no skill on the side at all. There are numerous examples of great films adapted from great source material, terrible films adapted from great source material, great films adapted from terrible source material and terrible films adapted from terrible source material. Sometimes the novelists themselves are great at adapting their own books. Sometimes the adaptation needs the touch of someone who can step away from the book a little. So what is the key to a great adaptation?