Category Archives: Books To Film

Brooklyn (The Movie)

I am not a big film buff. I love a good movie (and often quite a few bad ones) don’t get me wrong, however reviewing isn’t my forte, just watching them and then simply summing them up with ‘ooh I loved it’, ‘ooh it had its moments’ or ‘ooh wasn’t that a load of old bobbins’. So it might seem bonkers then for me to mention on this blog, which is after all for books, that I think if you don’t all book tickets to see Brooklyn, adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, as soon as you can then you are fools. And I should know because I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening last night…

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When I read Brooklyn (back in 2009 so do forgive me if it seems a churlish review, I have refused to re-read it) I fell head over heels in love with it as a novel. Usually this means that when I see an adaptation is coming out at the cinema I do an inward rolling of the eyes and think ‘not on your nelly’, however when I saw that it was being shown early as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival at the Fact Cinema (which I have always wanted to go to) it seemed too good a trip out to miss. I have to admit though up until the popcorn was in my hand and I was sat in front of the opening titles, I was really nervous. It was, to me at least, an almost perfect movie.

I won’t give the plot away but the film, or indeed the novel, are set around the tale of Eilis Lacey. Born into a poor family who have lost their father and breadwinner her sister Rose has found one of the scarce jobs in her town but for a better chance at life Rose has organised her sister Eilis to go to Brooklyn where many young women are making a life for themselves and even managing to send money back home to help there. We then follow Eilis as she leaves home, has to settle into a whole new way of life all whilst becoming a woman. Then, for reasons I shall not give away, we watch as Eilis has to chose between her old home and her new ‘almost’ home after struggling to belong. Well, for the first time in a long time I was greeted with a film that was as close to the book, both in story, character and most importantly atmosphere, as well as what I had envisioned in my head. I loved every minute.

Firstly the acting is marvellous. Saoirse Ronan as Eilis is just superb, as she goes from an innocent, slightly giddy and occasionally cheeky to a homesick vulnerable wreck and then onto a more confident women with some very difficult decisions, she inhabits the role wonderfully, and what is wonderful is how she plays Eilis when she becomes slightly unlikeable which I found wonderful. I also thought Emory Cohen was wonderful as the loveable love interest ‘Tony’ and their relationship was spot on, even if he was slightly cuter and more clean shaven than the Tony I had in my head – but that says more about me than anything. The supporting cast were also wonderful. Julie Walters as Madge Kehoe, the Irish housekeeper in Brooklyn was, as always, wonderful and stole almost every scene she was in, though without the wonderfully played roles of the other girls there (by all the women who played them) they might not have been so funny, I could have watched and entire TV series around the dinner scenes set there. Jim Broadbent was very good as Father Flood,  though I don’t think it taxed him much it didn’t matter because it was Jim Broadbent and he is just good stuff always. Huge kudos should go to Eilis’ sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and mother (Jane Brennan) as well as the marvellously awful Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan) whose subtelty and intensity in all their parts was wonderful.

And it doesn’t end there, even though I am now in danger of making this sound like an Oscar’s speech, I thought the director, costume designer and sets and settings all need a huge round of applause as 1950’s Brooklyn and Ireland both came to life fully formed with these characters in front of my eyes, the locations becoming the two biggest characters in the whole movie really. Finally, Nick Hornby (yes, him) has done an amazing job of adapting it all to create the whole plot behind it and seems to have seen all the wonderful things that I love in Toibin’s writing (the intricacy of the small moments, the sadness, the joy and the laugh out loud – no one instantly thinks ‘Toibin, he’s a funny one’ but he is and Hornby sees it, those dinner scenes and small snatches in conversations) and magnifies them slightly highlighting them and just making it all a joy to watch. So go see it.

I have now come away with a huge reinvigorated love of the cinema and have already booked tickets for Spectre on Tuesday and might have to see if anyone wants to see Suffragette this weekend in the interim. I am also going to go and dust of some Toibin as I think that is who I shall be reading next, though I also want to read Patricia Highsmith’s Carol before that comes out at the cinema in a few weeks.

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Filed under Books To Film, Random Savidgeness

Gone Girl – The Movie (And Some Other Bits and Bobs)

Just a quick post from me as I am a) I have been feeling a bit ropey since I came back from London and b) I am reading like a demon for some episodes of You Wrote The Book (I have Victoria Hislop on this week and then the following fortnights am joined by David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee – I am beyond chuffed, so apologies for the proud moment of over sharing) being ill of course is the perfect thing when you have got lots of lovely reading to do. It is not so good for making you have any urge to sit in front of the computer. Gosh I ramble on don’t I? Anyway…

As I mentioned I am not long back from a very speedy trip to London where I had the pleasure of going to see the advance first UK screening of Gone Girl with lots of lovely bookish types (including Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words, who were also at the lovely champagne and canapé pre-show gathering with me and I might hop on the podcast of) it was all very hush hush, phones were locked away while we watched it in the West End cinema…

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I am not sure how much I am allowed to say about it because of the fact (like the book) there are so many twists and also because of embargos, so I will keep it unusually short for me. It was bloody brilliant, two and a half hours whizzed by. I am thrilled Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay as it was spot on flawless. And, some people might think I am mad and it isn’t something I thought I would ever say, I will be amazed if Rosamund Pike doesn’t get an Oscar nod and lots of prizes for her utterly brilliant performance as Amazing Amy, she was – erm – amazing. (This also shows why I review books not films normally!)

So that was that I just thought I would share.  A big thanks to Orion for inviting me! Whilst away I also met up with the lovely Kim of Reading Matters for lunch which was lovely, much discussion of books and blogging was had too! Oh actually I forgot to tell you I saw the adaptation of S. J Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep the other week at the cinema and that was bloody marvellous too. Right, I am back to lie on the sofa and watch another adaptation, Jack Reacher. I haven’t read the books, I have no expectations, I am ill and in need of some escapism. What great adaptations have you seen recently? Have you seen Before I Go To Sleep? Will you be rushing out to see Gone Girl? Oh and if you have any questions for David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee let me know… Book reviews are back in earnest from tomorrow, promise!

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The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick

I came to finally reading Matthew Quick’s ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ a rather unusual way. When the book came out a few years ago and was placed on the (now defunct I believe) TV Book Club choices it just wasn’t a book I fancied reading. The title seemed a little bit saccharine and I just had the feeling it might be a real schmaltz fest that I simply wouldn’t get. However at the cinema a few weeks ago (to see Breaking Dawn Part 2, a film that was really only good for 20 minutes which turned out to be a ‘vision’ and hadn’t actually happened) I saw the trailer for new Hollywood adaptation of ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ and took a shine to it. I thought it looked like it would have you laughing and crying the whole way through and so I decided to ignore my previous thoughts on the book and give it a whirl before I saw the movie.

Picador Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 289 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (so sorry!)

Picador Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 289 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (so sorry!)

Patrick Peoples, our narrator and protagonist, has just been released from a psychiatric hospital as ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ opens. Many, including some of the doctors there, don’t feel that he is ready to go out into the world yet his mother, and her lawyers, have persuaded people otherwise. Patrick, or Pat, is determined to get his life back on track. He understands that he wasn’t the best husband, initially you think this is because he feels he put on weight during his marriage and is obsessed with losing it, to his wife Nikki and wants to make amends no matter how many times people clearly state to him that this will never happen. As he starts life again his friends introduce him to Tiffany, a widow who has become something of a nymphomaniac, who it seems is just as much of an emotional wreck as he is. Can this unlikely duo and their friendship help each other sort themselves out?

At first I was really quite charmed with the story that Matthew Quick was unfolding, I liked Pat’s rather direct and sometimes blunt outlook on life quite funny and found the story of his initial steps after leaving the clinic and moving home interesting. Sadly however slowly but surely the book started to fall apart for me, and I found myself picking it to pieces, before wishing it would all be over. Here is why…

First of all whilst I liked Pat he remains throughout a rather two dimensional character, I never felt (despite all we go through with him) that emotionally connected to his story. I did want to know the mystery of what happened between him and Nikki and why his father didn’t really speak to him but I never fully cared. This sounds awfully harsh I know, I think the problem was that in having the HUGE ‘what happened?’ over the whole of the book and the mystery behind it you couldn’t know him and while I was interested it was only in the mystery, not about him and what happened to him.

I actually thought that Tiffany and her story, which we get at the very end not long before one of the most saccharine and clichéd of final chapters I have read in a long time, was much more interesting and yet she wasn’t really in the book that much and when she was you might as well have had plot device tattooed on her forehead. I don’t want to give any spoilers away but as the book goes on it appears Tiffany could be a link to Pat meeting Nikki again, let’s just say it was preposterous and the twist that Quick uses was easy to spot a mile off, though maybe that was the idea? Either way it completely jarred with me and the world was broken, but to be fair to Quick I did carry on to find out what happened, I just didn’t believe in any of it.

I did overall like Quick’s writing, well its style, I found some of the set pieces quite funny but as I mentioned before I never quite had an emotional attachment. I also thought the book tried to pack too much in and didn’t know who it was aimed at, something an editor should have sorted out. One minute it had that ‘love story’ quality and the ‘man who went mad and made good’ aspect, oh and the dancing competition (I am rolling my eyes) all which seemed to state this was a book for women. Then there was the never ending (well it seemed never ending) football stuff, American football I should add – the Eagles of Philadelphia to be precise, a storyline which I think was to try and make Pat bond with his brother and father again who have completely ignored him for the years he was away. When his new therapist was also a fan and they met at the game my eyes almost rolled so much that I thought they might never stop like an arcade machine that needs fixing – and no not in a ‘jackpot’ sense. Oh, and don’t get me started on how the book  has ruined, with all its spoilers as Pat reads them, most of the American classics that I have yet to read.

It looks like I really disliked ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ doesn’t it? I think it’s fairer to say I was just very disappointed in it, I had high hopes because the premise looked so could it just didn’t deliver for me personally. I won’t give the book the ‘debut author’ excuse that some might as a) it is patronising to the author and b) I read Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says It Out Loud’ last year which does all of this so, so much better and is a debut too. It simply isn’t a ‘me’ book and that is really no one’s fault but mine. I should have stuck to my initial feelings and left the book alone, damn you trailer! Speaking of which I am now unsure I want to see the movie. That said though sometimes, no matter how much it pains me to say so, the films can actually be better than the books which brings us full circle to me mentioning Breaking Dawn Part 2 again ironically.

I am sure I am a part of a very small minority here though and that many people love or will love ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’? Maybe the cold weather has frozen my heart and feelings? Have you read it and if so what did you think? Have any of you seen the movie yet, thoughts?

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Filed under Books To Film, Matthew Quick, Picador Books, Review

Is Anyone, or Has Anyone, Been Watching ‘The Slap’?

I thought I would ask as I have and yet I haven’t seen much discussion about it and I think its quite a good adaptation. I am not saying it’s perfect, but then what adaptation is, but it’s got some great characters playing some really dislikeable characters really well. What say all of you?

I’ve realised that I never wrote about the actual book of ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas as it was a longlist contender for The Green Carnation Prize last year, I have always felt funny about writing about long or short listed books if I have read them after they have been submitted. I am wondering why it hasn’t made one of the main channels here (its on BBC Four) as the book has been huge, maybe it’s the subject matter. Any readers in Australia can tell me how its gone there, big success? What about in the rest of the world?

I could almost be tempted to pick it up again after watching the show, but that would mean I would be reading it for the fourth time in just over a year which might be overkill. I did read ‘Loaded’ this year and am quite keen to read ‘Dead Europe’ any thoughts on those?

So have you enjoyed ‘The Slap’ on the telly? What did you think of the book? What about his other books? What other adaptations have you enjoyed of late, which ones have you really not? Just thought would throw all that out there.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books To Film

Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas

Ever since having read ‘The Slap’ last year (a total of two and a half times), for The Green Carnation Prize which it was long listed for – it was also listed for some prize called the Booker in the same year, I have been meaning to read more of Tsiolkas’ novels. I was rather chuffed when the new re-issued Vintage edition popped through my letter box a month or so ago and promptly sat down with it. It was an interesting experience to see that what I loved about ‘The Slap’ was all there, along with some of the things that I didn’t. I do also quite like the idea of everyone who has read ‘The Slap’ and found it shocking giving ‘Loaded’ a whirl, oh what they would be letting themselves in for…

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Vintage; 1997 (reissued 2011), fiction, 160 pages; kindly sent by publisher

The narrator of ‘Loaded’ is quite a fascinating one. Nineteen year old Ari lives in the city of Melbourne in Australia, he is Greek, he has no job, he is gay but secretly, he loves nothing more than going on massive drink and drug fuelled binges preferably with lots of random anonymous sex along the way. In fact from the first page where the novel opens with Ari masturbating with a massive hangover you pretty much know the story that you are getting here, well you think you do at least, as we follow him for the next twenty four hours.

Initially I didn’t think there was really any plot. In fact if I am honest I had written this book as one of those ‘lets write a really shocking book that gets me published even if it’s a cliché but everyone will read it anyway’ kind of novels. Yet as we read on between all the drug taking, drinking, etc there is a lot that this book is looking at and saying. One of the main senses you get is a sense of needing to belong, to be a part of something and yet rejecting that very thing at the same time.

“Are you proud of being Australian? The old mans question feels like an interrogation. The answer is easy. No, no way. Proud of being an Australian? I laugh. What a concept, I continue, what is there to be proud of? The whole table laughs at this and Ariadne gives me a hug. They forget me and continue their conversation.”

Its about fitting in and identity and in the case of Ari he doesn’t feel he fits in with the culture (because he is Greek and is Australian yet doesn’t feel he can be both) or with his sexuality (he hates the term ‘gay’, only sleeps with ‘men’ not ‘faggots’ and still sleeps with women when he is bored or drugged enough) and these things both add to his sense of feeling like he doesn’t belong in his family and that environment. In fact the family dynamic is another thing that Christos Tsiolkas looks at in ‘Loaded’ and this family is pretty dysfunctional. The parent’s of Ari, Peter and their sister Alex are volatile to say the least, one minute screaming obscenities at their children, next minute joining them in having a cigarette and an afternoon whiskey or three.

“If they were very angry they might come in, turn off the music, throw your CD or cassette against the wall. The screaming could go on half the night, wake up the neighbours, wake up the dogs. They called us names, abused us, sometimes hit us, short sharp slaps. It was not the words themselves, but the combination of savage emotion and insult, the threat of violence and the taunting tone that shattered our attempts at pretend detachment; it was Peter’s sly, superior smile, my sister’s half-closed eyes which did not look at them, my bored, blank face, that spurred my parents on to greater insults, furious laments.”

These were the moments when I thought Tsiolkas had the book spot on. We see other friends of Ari’s like Joe (very heterosexual) and Johnny (also known as Toula when in drag) and then through Ari’s sharing of their back stories get an insight into why they have become addicts, be it to the drink, the drugs or the sex. This was all brilliant and I could have read much, much more should Tsiolkas have written it. Instead sadly we get these marvellous moments of character and prose and then its back to the sex.

I don’t have an issue with sex in books; I’m not prudish, if there is a reason behind it. Twice in this book there is, one scene illuminates us to Ari’s self image issues and the psychology behind that and what he does to try and rectify it, the other proves a violent then emotional scene between Ari and someone who might just steal his heart. The latter was actually an incredibly effective piece of writing, so much sad in the violence and the silent post-coital cigarette after. Yet when we manage to have about six graphic sex scenes and several solo efforts within 150 pages I was just thinking ‘do we need this?’ It let the rest of the book down rather a lot.

‘Loaded’ is an interesting book. It is also a book where the effects of the wondrous prose is almost extinguished by the graphic scenes ‘set to shock’ and light up the readers indignation, or whatever effect was meant to be achieved. Take 85% of the sex away and you have a cracking and insightful read into the lives of some mixed up teenagers in the early 90’s. It would also be a really interesting angle of some of Australian life. Sadly with the sex left in some of that is lost, and so sadly was this reader. 6/10

Who has read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ other novels? Has anyone seen the film version of this called ‘Head On’, I did years ago, can remember little about it apart from it having the lead from Heartbreak High in it. I wish I had written about ‘The Slap’ after I read it the first time last year, after another read and a half I wasn’t so keen, in fact why didn’t I keep reviews on the computer instead of a notebook for all the Green Carnation submissions last year, drat’s! Isn’t it funny how sexing particular, be it of any orientation, can really put you off a book? In fact anything taken too far, in a graphic context, can almost ruin a book. Has this happened to you, would you care to share the novel and what put you off it?

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Filed under Books To Film, Christos Tsiolkas, Review, Vintage Books

Toast – Nigel Slater

It is thanks to routing through other peoples shelves (I’m going to do a post on the joys of other people’s shelves and having a nosey next week) that I ended up reading a book that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise and really loved. The book in question was ‘Toast’ by Nigel Slater which had initially piqued my interest after the adaptation on the television over Christmas, which we recorded and then completely forgot to watch. I then forgot about how much I wanted to read the book (see that self hype thing again)… until I was having a nosey and my eyes happened to fall upon it and so I picked it up and absolutely loved it.

All I knew of Nigel Slater before I picked up ‘Toast’ was that he was a rather well known chef whose recipe books seem to be in every single member of my families houses. I’ve never watched his TV shows and really never been that interested in cookery books, other than maybe Nigella, though I like cooking. ‘Toast’ is Nigel Slater’s memories of childhood into adulthood all told through food. I imagined this might be recipes but I was wrong as in fact it’s snippets of memories with titles like ‘Christmas Cake,  ‘The Hostess Trolley’ and ‘Peach Melba’ (which I had forgotten once existed and instantly wanted) each with its own memories attached.

‘Toast’ really is quite a collection of memories as Nigel didn’t have the easiest or happiest of childhoods. His mother had health issues, his father wasn’t the most comforting or friendly of role models and of course there is the cleaner Mrs Poole who soon became the bane of Nigel’s life. It’s never a misery memoir though some of the book is very emotional it also often leaves you in hysterics. In some ways because of the humour I was reminded of Augusten Burroughs, only in this book the addictions are cook books and ingredients rather than drugs, the other thing that reminded me of Augusten Burroughs was the way slowly but surely Slater writes about his being gay, how he noticed it and coped with it in the 60’s and 70’s which again makes for a very heart felt and honest book.  

I knew I was going to be rather smitten with this book when I read the line in ‘Toast 1’ where Nigel writes ‘It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.’ He is talking about his mother and how when they make it in just the right way you are ‘putty in their hands’. People who arrive as the book progresses are each almost given a flavour in addiction to their character and this works wonderfully. It also really evokes atmosphere and underlying tensions such as when he helps his Mum make the, at the time, novel delicacy of spaghetti for his father which none of them have tried and as soon as they add the parmesan ‘this cheese smells like sick’ is deemed as ‘off’ and its never talked of or mentioned again.

I loved Nigel Slater’s writing, it never felt pretentious or woe is me or anything other than a down to earth account of his childhood filled with both happiness and sadness. It’s a ‘real’ memoir if you know what I mean, there are dramas and trials but they are never melodramatic. I decided Nigel Slater and I would be firm friends when he discussed ‘Butterscotch Angel Delight’ my all time favourite too. This is someone who hasn’t had the easiest start in life who rather than complain about it looks back at it fondly and asks the reader to join in and do so too. This is my favourite book of the year so far. 10/10

I am hoping that any of you who are much more up on Nigel Slater and his writing than I am will please tell me there are more books he has written like this as I would really like to read more of his work. I have since reading this cooked one of his recipes and it wasn’t half bad. Which memoirs have left you feeling like you’ve just had a really honest, open, funny and sad catch up with a new found friend even though you’ve never met them?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Books To Film, Harper Collins, Nigel Slater, Review

Books To Film #1

I do like seeing people’s thoughts on books that they have read and how they feel about them when they are turned into films. In fact I almost took part in the ‘Read The Book, See The Movie’ challenge that quite a lot of people seem to have participated in. I do find though that if I know one of my favourite books is going to be turned into a film I almost instantly take a certain dislike to it, I am currently building some dislike for the film version of ‘One Day’ before its even finished being made. There is occasionally the flipside when sometimes you watch a film and it’s as good as if not better than the book like for example the first book-to-film I am going to address today which is…

…‘Eclipse.’ You will probably know that I have had rather a rollercoaster ride with Stephenie Meyer’s works, I didn’t like the first but then saw the film version of ‘Twilight’ and was completely hooked, in fact I rushed to see both ‘New Moon’ and ‘Eclipse’ on the weekends they came out. I cannot explain this compulsion and I am not sure how I feel about it, ha. I think because I found the book so slow and the fact the movie really started from about page 350 in the book (where all the action begins) I enjoyed it more. The humour in the third film is at the forefront which I really liked and there are some great comic scenes between Edward and Jake, but there is also the endless longing and Bella (Kristen Stewart looks exactly like mt Aunty Caroline did at her age – spooky) wandering about in trees almost looking for danger or driving around advertising in a Volvo through mountains. Having said that its good escapist fun, though why did they change Victoria? 7/10

I think possibly the most beautiful and cinematic film I have watched in some time is ‘A Single Man’ which is Tom Ford’s directorial debut and his take on Christopher Isherwood’s marvellous book. I thought the imagery and the way it set that period of time was just wonderful. Colin Firth was absolutely superb as George a man dealing with the loss of his lover Jim in a world where being gay is not the most acceptable of lifestyles. Julianne Moore as Charley (a drunken fellow Brit) absolutely stole the show for me though, every scene with her in it seemed to have certain energy, but that’s also down to characters as Firth had to play a more restrained role in George. I thought both of them deserved Oscars and Ford certainly did. I saw ‘The Hurt Locker’ and was soooo disappointed, this cinematically is just beautiful. 9/10

I will admit that I expected to utterly loathe the film version of ‘The Road’. In part because I thought Cormac McCarthy’s book was so devastating and so haunting I didn’t think anything could touch it and secondly because I didn’t rate the leads and don’t like films with precocious little boys in them (Sixth Sense anyone?) especially when they have a rather pivotal part. Yet I thought this was a great version, it was atmospheric, the road they walked was very like the one I envisaged and it both scared and moved me which I really didn’t expect the film version to do. The young boy was a superb actor too and I didn’t even get too irritated by Charlie Theron in the role, that was none existent and only hinted at in the book, as the mother either. 8/10

I think Tim Burton is an utter genius when it comes to films; in fact I was always a little surprised he never got his mitts on the Harry Potter movies. Sadly I just didn’t get on with his remake of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ based of course on the famous Lewis Carroll story. It was crazy and psychedelic enough, whilst of course being nothing like either of the stories more a mesh with all the popular characters. Johnny Depp didn’t shine for me like I expected him to as ‘The Mad Hatter’ and Helena Bonham Carter (or as the Savidge family call her Helena Bonkable Carter – think Bongy, Granny Savidge Reads husband, made that up years ago and still lives on now) was good but not amazing as ‘The Red Queen’ maybe he should stop giving his wife and friend jobs instantly and shake it up a bit as Anne Hathaway was ace as ‘The White Queen’. 6/10

Finally, and get read for me to be scathing, comes ‘The Lovely Bones’ which I thought Peter Jackson (who is normally so good) turned into a mediocre saccharine family drama when it should have been far darker. I am sure it made Alice Sebold a lot of money for adapting the book but it’s tarnished the memory of it for me and I just thought ‘sell out’, strange as I wouldn’t normally feel that way to an author. Rachel Weisz (again normally not bad) seemed unsure what she was meant to do with the role, Mark Wahlberg kept forgetting it wasn’t an action movie and Saoirse Rohan as Salmon was just to breathy and sunshiny even in death, a million miles away from her superb performance in ‘Atonement’. There were two great actors and those were Stanley Tucci who was perfectly despicable and Susan Sarandon as a wonderful drinking, forthright, sex talking grandmother who stole every scene she was in. I wonder if they only have her parts on youtube, if so just watch those. 3/10

And there you have it my first foray into books-to-film thoughts. Hope you enjoyed it? There will be more next week when I also look at film to TV adaptations (and not the new series of ‘Sherlock’ we have here in the UK). In the meantime let’s hear what you have to say about books to film? Have there been any that have done it marvellously, any that have appalled you, or any that shock, horror was actually better than the book?

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A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood

You probably all know by now that I am someone who actually has to read a book before I see the film (unless I don’t know it’s a book or I was young and had no idea it was a book) and so naturally I wanted to read ‘A Single Man’ by Christopher Isherwood before I see it, for me its one of this years must watch movies. I was told by someone over dinner on Saturday night ‘to skip the book and simply watch the film… the book is well… just watch the film.’ This of course only made me want to read the book even more, that and the fact since reading ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ Christopher Isherwood is an author I have wanted to try many more books of.

‘A Single Man’ is the tale of a day in the life of George. A British man teaching English and living in California who’s life has changed through the complex emotions grief bestows upon someone since loosing his partner Jim. Though you are never quite told when the book is meant to be set I got a feel of the late 1950’s, the book was written in the early 1960’s a time when homosexuality really wasn’t still accepted though there was a slight change in the air. We follow George through his day and in doing so learn how a man copes with the loss of a loved one, for he is technically a widower, when he cannot discuss it.

“George is ashamed of his roarings because they aren’t play-acting. He does genuinely lose his temper and feels humiliated and sick to his stomach later. At the same time, he is quite aware that the children want him to behave this way. They are actually willing him to do it. If he should refuse to play the monster, and they could no longer provoke him, they would have to look out for another substitute. The question is – is this play acting or does he really hate us? – never occurs to them. They are utterly indifferent to him, except as a character in their myths. It is only George who cares.”

For such a small book it is brimming with ideas, emotions, and people and actually took me a while to read at there is so much to take in. It’s utterly remarkable. Through George’s ordinary day as he gets up, gets ready, drives to work, works, visits a hospital, has a dinner with a friend and gets very drunk Isherwood crams different emotions behind all his actions. Sometimes bitter, inept, nostalgic, angry, sad, aroused, giddy – basically the whole gambit that grief with put you through and so far in my ready experience I have never read it better and though its not written in first person you can feel it all. We also get his back story, Jim’s too and then we have the wonderful character of Charlotte a fairly close neighbour.

“In any case, she absolutely refuses to learn to drive. If she needs to go someplace and no one offers to give her a ride, well then, that’s too bad, she can’t go. But the neighbours nearly always do help her; she has them utterly intimidated and bewitched by this Britishness which George himself knows so well how to employ, though with a different approach.”

Charlotte is another lost person and the two cling together despite that fact that when they are apart she repulses George slightly, but she knew about Jim and is one of the few people to which he can talk about him, relive those times. I was fascinated by her though only in the book for 30 pages her character is just as complex and destroyed as George only she turns to alcohol and lets every emotion be seen. She also adds a dark comedy towards the end of the book which adds a different perspective. Speaking of the ending, I will say no more than I wasn’t expecting it and don’t read it just before you go to sleep, I lay awake for about twenty minutes after.  

I could go on and on about this book but really what I should simply do is urge you to read it. It’s a small book filled with subtlety and a such a deep and clever internal dialogue which says so much you feel you want to read it again and see what you missed. People have said this is Isherwood’s masterpiece and he himself said that it was his favourite of his own works. Having only read one other of his books myself so far I don’t feel qualified to comment on that, I can say I will be reading much more of him and comparing in the future.

Have you read this? What did you think? I have Mrs Norris Changes Trains on the TBR but as my birthday is looming what other Isherwood have you read and would recommend I throw myself in the direction of, or throw people wanting to buy presents in the way of?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Books To Film, Christopher Isherwood, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Precious – Sapphire

I am one of those people who likes to read a book before I see the film and so with a planned visit to the cinema to see ‘Precious’ this weekend I thought that I would read the book, originally titled ‘Push’, by Sapphire. I didn’t really know what to make of it, if you have seen the trailer then you will get some idea, it looks like it could be quite a harrowing movie (though one already to wipe the Oscars clean this year) and therefore you would think it might be fairly harrowing read. The thing with harrowing or tragic tales is that they can also hold infinite hope inside them.

“I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby by my favher. That was 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She’s retarded. I had got left back in second grade too, when I was seven, ‘cause I couldn’t read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf’ grade so I can get gone ‘n graduate. But I’m not. I’m in the ninfe grade.”

From the very first paragraph we are taken straight into the world of Precious Jones and truth be told its not a world for the faint hearted. Pregnant for the second time by her own father Precious has grown up illiterate in the back streets of Harlem where the only thing she wants is an education which will bring freedom and opportunity. She lives with her abusive mother who is living off the money she receives for having her daughter and granddaughter living in the house, though in truth Precious’s disabled daughter has been shipped off to her grandmothers while her mother claims the extra money.

As we join Precious she is reflecting on her life and how she came to be in the position she is in and as you come to know her back story it not only makes you sad it also makes you quite angry. Precious is soon kicked out of high school under the pretext of simply ‘being pregnant’. However a teacher takes sympathy on her and has booked her on an alternative education course Each One Teach One. This is, Precious knows, probably the last chance she has of an education along with the likes of Rhoda, Jermaine and Rita (all with dark and unfortunate pasts) but with a second baby due, a mother who doesn’t want her to do anything but be a slave and a means of benefits is Precious really ever going to change her life?

I thought, though in parts it made me angry, that this is one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. It brings home the lives that some people live in modern times who could really be in the same city as we are and we just don’t notice. Though the book is set in the 1980’s this is still going on and actually shows how rather worryingly in some ways things haven’t moved on as much as we might hope. Precious is a remarkable character and a sign of hope in dark times, as are all the girls in her class at Each One Teach One and her teacher Blue Rain, having humour when most of us would give up. Though fictional this book packs a huge punch as you know that these things are really going on out there. We need books like this and people need to read them, especially when they are written with such a blunt (the language is quite out there as are some of the scenes described), compelling, honest, emotional and occasionally funny voice.   

I was utterly blown away by this book, I am not sure how I will be able to handle the movie, it left me speechless and with a huge amount to think about for such a small book. Books like this show just why reading shouldn’t always be a safe and comfortable experience, sometimes we need harder stories like this. Its remarkable, not an easy read but most certainly a must read.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Books To Film, Review, Sapphire, Vintage Books

Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell

I mentioned on Saturday that I have been really enjoying the BBC series of Wallander adapted from the Henning Mankell series. I have however been leaving watching Faceless Killers as I wanted to read the book first. Well finally I have gotten round to it. Would I love the book as much as do the television series, would it be as atmospheric and gloomy yet fantastic as the TV show?

Faceless Killers is the first in the now very successful series of Wallander books by Henning Mankell. It opens with the discovery of the brutal murder Lovgren’s, an elderly couple who have been living their latter years in the Swedish countryside, by their neighbours. Inspector Wallander is called to the scene where they have discovered Maria Lovgren is still alive but not for long. Her final word being ‘foreigners’ is also the only clue as who might have killed this couple as no one can work out why they would have been murdered. It is up to Wallander and his colleagues to try and find the killer though once someone leaks the woman’s last word to the press a racial storm is whirled up causing its own shocking deadly events.

Wallander is a brilliant creation as he is incredibly flawed; in fact really both he and his life are a complete mess. His wife has left him, his daughter has barely spoken to him since she tried to kill herself and he saved her and his father is becoming senile and he is surviving on caffeine, alcohol, pain killers and little sleep. It can be difficult to make a distinct lead character in crime fiction as there are so many inspectors/detectives to choose from but Mankell has done it instantly with Wallander.

I also thought that throwing in the topic of racism in Sweden makes the book not only have another dimension to it but looks at a country changing. It’s interesting to see through the characters how they all react to this and the state of immigrants in the country fictionally; though I think Mankell is trying to also raise a current topic that’s important to be discussed. I couldn’t believe that this was originally written nearly 20 years ago as it felt very fresh and current. You could put that down to translation but I think its definitely in the main down to the author. I think first crime novels can be really difficult but Mankell makes it look easy and I cannot wait to read The Dogs of Riga.

I am really excited about the rest of the series and can completely see why people have been raving about it for so long. It was interesting though as I watched the TV version about half an hour after finishing the last page (because I didn’t want it to expire on iPlayer) and as usual the show was beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and gripping. It is also very much an ‘adaptation’ though the story is much more complex in the book and twists and turns a lot and some characters don’t exist in the book or look anything like their description if they are in it. That’s not a criticism as the show is amazing, if anything it’s a bonus as if I read the others that I have seen I know they will be quite a bit different. I do think that Branagh is a perfect Wallander and that rarely happens. So now I have double the delight.

If you haven’t tried this series be you a fan of crime or not do give it a whirl. It comes highly recommended from Savidge Reads. Who else has read this book? Does the series carry on in the same vein, does it get better? Any other Wallander thoughts?

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Filed under Books To Film, Henning Mankell, Review, Vintage Books

Sherlock Holmes

One of my favourite characters in literature and one of the best fictional detectives ever has to be Sherlock Holmes. It is also down to him and the unusual way that I was introduced to him by a very special relation of mine which really got me into reading when I was younger.

From since I can remember my family was big on walking though not so much now. When I was younger we would think nothing of a nice thirteen mile hike through the peak district before a nice late Sunday roast (who was making it or how long it was in the oven I have no idea as we were all out). Occasionally we would also do one on Saturday. As I got older we would go on walking holidays. These involved my Gran (Granny Savidge Reads), Bongy (who I mentioned the other day) my Great Aunty Pat and her husband Derrick who is my Gran’s eldest brother. They would also involve anything between nine and fourteen miles of walking a day either for a week or a fortnight.

Naturally this could get a little boring for a young gent so my Uncle Derrick would memorise tales for me of Arthur Conan Doyle. Initially starting with such greats as ‘The Croxley Master’, ‘The Brown Hand’, ‘The Nightmare Room’, and many, many more. These are all contained in a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories he gave me in my early teens and one I still treasure dearly and dip into now and again. I loved these tales, though it was with Sherlock Holmes that my Uncle Derrick realised he had struck gold half way through The Dales Way. I was apparently spellbound. All these wonderful adventures in Victorian London with dastardly doings and seemingly impossible mysteries to solve, all done by a rather rogue and mysterious man who would fathom them all easily with his trusty sidekick.

It seems I wasn’t the only one hooked as Gran admitted when she was here that she would walk quicker to stay in ear shot of me and Derrick as he regaled these tales for a good mile or three. After the walks stopped (I got a bit teenagery – I needn’t say more) the reading of Sherlock didn’t and I think for a good few years I would start at the beginning read the whole lot and then return to the beginning again. I had a wonderful illustrated omnibus that actually fell apart from over reading and all the journeys it went on. Shockingly I have never bought them again, and now I think it might be time. Maybe I should have a Sherlock Season this spring?

I hinted yesterday that I was going to see a film in this households Boxing Day movie ritual. It was of course Sherlock Holmes. I was slightly worried as I have always found the TV versions lacking something; he always seems too old and more mentally apt than physically which isn’t the case in the books where he boxes like he does in the film. Would a blockbuster directed by Madonna’s ex do the job? The answer is a resounding yes!

It’s utterly brilliant and everything  a Sherlock Holmes tale should be. It’s got an impossible mystery, masterly disguises, devilish doings, tonnes of action and mayhem galore. Robert Downey Jnr is just brilliant as a wily, mysterious, dry humoured and cunning Holmes. Jude Law is great as an authentic Watson who, again like in the books, doesn’t just keep notes and stand by the sidelines but gets fully involved. It was everything I hoped it would be and probably a bit more. I cannot wait for the second one already. You must go and see it; I think it will cause a huge serge in Sherlock sales in the next few months with both adults and younger fans. The game is afoot.

So who else has been thrown under the spell of Sherlock or indeed Arthur Conan Doyle in their reading life? Who has never read him? Who really wants to? Who out there might be up for a read-a-thon? Also who of you have had a remarkable relation who through you further into reading in an unusual way? Uncle Derrick sadly now has Alzheimer’s and when I go and see him has no idea who I am. I often hope he goes back to his favourite tales and gets lost a little in the Victorian adventures he loved and passed the love of on to me?

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Book Thoughts, Books To Film

Small Island – Andrea Levy

No more Granny Savidge Reads for a while, you will just have to make do with me from now on. Well until the spring when I am off, with the Converted One of course, up north for a weekend of blogging respite for me but blog building for a certain someone. Today’s post is all about one of Gran’s favourite books which is Small Island by Andrea Levy which I had decided to read while she was staying here and also before the second half of the BBC adaptation is on. Now my Gran and I agree on a lot of books but heartily disagree on many too. Which category would this book fall into?

Small Island starts as two of its main characters come face to face. On a street in London in 1948 Queenie Bligh opens the door to be faced with Hortense Gilbert fresh from Jamaica, a woman she has never seen before but one who turns out to be the wife of one of her lodgers Gilbert. One of several lodgers that Queenie’s neighbours do not approve of as they are black, the fact that Gilbert fought for the British in the War it’s recovering from doesn’t matter one jot. With her husband away Queenie needs the cash and besides she isn’t prejudice, she takes people as she finds them and she finds them alright. Though at first you wouldn’t think these two women have anything in common you soon learn they do and not just in personality or the facts they didn’t marry for love… there is something in their very different pasts that links them too.

I am making it sound like the book is just about these two women and that isn’t the case at all, they just take over every scene they are in even when they aren’t narrating it. The book is actually narrated by Queenie, Hortense and their two husbands Gilbert (who is just lovely) and Bernard. Each has a very interesting tale to tell not only on their lives and backgrounds, which are revealed in a slightly disjointed order. They also give four voices to war, culture, love and racism which aren’t small topics by any means.

Hortense who comes to England after buying her marriage to a man she doesn’t love only to find it isn’t the dream she dreamt of and that despite her high opinion of herself society sees her as the lowest of the low is a particularly interesting story. Gilbert, who always tries to better his life and his difficult wife’s dreams, yet gets stuck at every step because of the colour of his skin. Queenie’s story comes later in the book but it packs a punch or two, especially when the repressed Bernhard comes back.

I could gush and gush on and on all the praise I have for this book for hours. It just worked on so many levels for me. It had great storylines and plots; in fact this book had so much to say and was so delightfully written I think I could have read another few hundred pages of the voices and their backgrounds and thoughts on the situations they were in. My only wish is that I hadn’t seen the first half of the BBC adaptation (which you can see on iPlayer) before I started reading the book as it gave away some of the forthcoming plots and twists, but only some, and it is a wonderful adaptation.

So like my Gran I absolutely loved this book; in fact I utterly adored it. Could you tell? I thought it was just so wonderfully written, the characters vivid (I think Hortense and Queenie are two of my favourite characters of the year). How Levy came up with the back stories and how they all interweaved together I will never know, they were completely believable despite happening on opposite sides of the world and you couldn’t guess how it would all work out. So good indeed was this wonderful novel that I ended up missing my stops on the tube several times reading this book which is a very good sign. One of my books of the year, in fact a book that will be whizzing straight into my top ten books of all time. Utterly marvellous, if you havent read it (which I think most of you will have – what did you think?) then you simply must!

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Books To Film, Headline Review, Review

The Wild Things – Dave Eggers

I have not read the children’s book ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak for about eight years since my sister was about three or four. It is a book that has always stayed with me though, it’s a children’s cult classic in a way. Though cult makes it sound like its doing bad things to children’s brains and this book doesn’t to my knowledge. When I saw Dave Eggers had written a ‘cross-over’ version of the book I decided I would have a go at reading it. I was slightly dubious that this would be a cash cow as the movie, which Eggers is very much involved with, comes out very soon which is an amalgamation of the new book and the old.

The Wild Things is the tale of Max and an adventure he has after he runs away from home. His parents have divorced in the not too distant past and now he lives with his mother, his sister Claire and his mothers boyfriend (a toy boy) Gary. His mother is very busy with her career two children and a new partner. His sister is very busy ignoring him and becoming a woman, no longer with so much time for Max. His Dad doesn’t really figure very much as he lives in the city. So this young boy is going through quite a bag of emotions culminating in a huge rebellion where he ends up running away and trying to sail to his fathers. He doesn’t end up there instead he finds an island inhabited by some very strange beasts who he befriends and even becomes King of. Though Kings need to be able to have all the answers and if they don’t, like young boys don’t always, they might just get eaten.

It’s an interesting book. For me as an adult I found it slightly flawed, the first half was utterly brilliant and very entertaining. Though do be warned Max rebels in some truly naughty ways and it could give your children ideas, or even yourself, and yet there seems to be no thought to the consequences of such actions which leaves certain parts of the book feeling a little unfinished. Why doesn’t Max’s mother punish him for covering his sister’s room in water?

Sadly once on the island no plot seemed abounds (maybe that is the idea) there also didn’t seem to be any reasoning behind the monsters behaviour and yet I felt that Eggers was trying to teach children something. There is a war which goes out of hand yet like certain parts of the first half of the book it is left unresolved and yet I felt the author was trying to make a point. There is also a monster, Carol, who starts of being the sort of beast you would all want as a friend as a child who then turns out to be quite something else and you never really knew why or what the point was other than a reason for Max to want to go home, something he hadn’t wanted to at all until that point.

By the end of the book I couldn’t work out what it was trying to say and if in fact it was a book that tried to incorporate an old classic picture book with no real idea of why it was doing it other than a movie tie-in as I had half suspected. I could see Eggers was trying to show a confused boy who is going through a situation where everything going on leads him to being angry all the time. I just didn’t get any redeeming features with this child who only wanted to cause wars and devastation and in a way I thought there should be. Nothing seemed to be resolved until the end of the book when everything was. I don’t mind books which have unresolved endings but if the middle is a mixture of unresolved motives thoughts and plots it seems confusing. That’s just me though.

All in all its good fun for children, I bet it’s a thrill to read to children actually… if you want them to run amuck that is as the monsters are wonderful! Maybe some teenagers will enjoy it though I think it might be a bit young in parts and confusingly undrawn in others. I enjoyed it but it confused me, I ended the book thinking ‘what was the point’ I then saw an advert on the telly for the movie and thought ‘oh that’s the point’.

I did like Eggers writing though and would like to read something original of his, I have heard that his novel ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; is very good. Have any of you read that or any of his other work? Which cross-over books have worked for you? What are your thoughts on new interpretations of old classics? Can any authors re-write young children’s books to appeal to older kids and adults?

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Filed under Books To Film, Dave Eggers, Penguin Books, Review

Dorian Gray – The Movie

I mentioned the other day that myself and the delightful Novel Insights were off to see the movie Dorian Gray which I was quite shocked so few of you had heard was out, maybe just for once they have released a movie in Britain before anywhere else? Why is it we always get the movies last over here? So off we pootled to the cinema with brimming bags of popcorn and sweets (or in Novel Insights case cheese twists) and prepared ourselves to be whisked away in Victorian times through the medium of cinema. I thought this would be additional visual back ground for The Sensation Season.

I have to admit, before I go any further, that though we were both excited to be going to the cinema together and to see the movie; we had also heard that it had received some quite harsh reviews from certain ‘literary quarters’ and yet also been raved about by some of the movie magazines, I don’t read them it just says so on the posters ‘a terrific gothic romp’ etc. So we were both excited but slightly dubious all in one. We decided to just sit back and let the movie take over.

The first thing that I will say is that though this film ‘is inspired by’ The Picture of Dorian Gray and isn’t actually an exact retelling which is why when Dorian arrives in London having inherited a huge mansion and looking very innocent and knowing no one I was a bit confused. “That’s not how it started in the book” I almost grumped, but these are film adaptations and you have to simply not compare them to the book however hard it is.

Though I liked the book, I utterly loved the movie. Maybe it was my current obsession with all things sensational and the era of 1870 – 1900? Maybe it’s the fact I have immersed myself in all things Victorian and this embodied it all. It’s a very dark film, the way I would actually describe it (sorry of this sounds poncey) is like a rich decadent yet dark velvety thriller. But enough of that lets get back to the movie and the story… 

After the success of the showing of his newly found friend Basil’s portrait of him Dorian becomes the talk and desire of London.  One minute you are thrown into the glitz and glamour of society as Dorian (a brilliant Ben Barnes) makes his way first innocently and then falls into the path of Lord Henry and everything gets seedier and much, much darker. From then on its all about ‘youth and beauty’, getting what you want in life and a dark pact made with the devil inspired by Lord Henry that takes the tale into the darkest parts of Victorian east end (which of course I loved) and the darkest parts of the mind. I don’t want to give too much away in case you haven’t read the book or seen the film. If you have read the book I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the movies ending.  

I thought the acting by Ben Barnes was superb, after seeing him as Prince Caspian I have to admit that I was quite dubious he could pull it off. As innocent Dorian on arrival in London I thought ‘no this won’t work’ but as the darkness of the character crept in I was so impressed with the way he played it, some could say he was near on a perfect Dorian in fact. For me though, no offense Ben, but Colin Firths portrayal of Lord Henry Wotton was utterly superb and any scene in which he was simply got stolen from who he was playing against. He had the leer, the gluttony, the rapacious appeal and the beguiling nature of Henry down to a fine art and you cannot stop yourself watching him.

Sadly the girls let the film down a bit for me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say wooden, that would be slightly unfair, maybe the way the plot was devised they just weren’t given enough time but the whole Sybil Vane affair was done too quickly and neither leading lady had enough time to grow on you or show you why Dorian, who could have anyone, would want them.

The costumes were wonderful (I need a cape for winter and a long sweeping velvet coat, I currently have the shaped beard and some new boots so am almost dressing Victorian already ha) and had slight modern twists of the Victorian era in terms of making the film real but unreal which I liked, it in some ways felt slightly Tim Burton-esque. The sets were wonderful Victorian London at its finest, most lavish and darkest. Highgate Cemetery (the star of Audrey Niffenegger’s new book) made a guest appearance which has only made me more desperate to visit. The film was also surprisingly scary!

All in all a wonderful way to spend a few hours of your evening deeply embroiled in the Victorian underworld with a few spooky happenings along the way. I utterly loved it. If you want to see more you can go to the website here, see if that wets your appetites any further. I do think I might get Dorian’d out though as The Converted One after not wanting to see it now is desperate to (and I will happily see it twice) and also soon I am off to see this in a few weeks too!

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