Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

Top 10 Book Adaptations

I’m not much of a film buff, I haven’t watched everything on any ‘100 films to see before you die’ list, and I certainly don’t think anyone would describe my film choices as particularly cool, whatever that means. But, I do enjoy watching a good film from time to time, and I always look out for adaptations of books I’ve read, or books I’d like to read. There are always discussions about adaptations, and I find it interesting that they always divide opinion.

Are you a fan of Leonardo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

Are you a fan of Leo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

A perfect example of this is the reception of Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby which came out last summer (I loved it, but then I hadn’t seen the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the inimitable Jay Gatsby).

I think there are often two main areas of discussion around a book adaptation:

1) How faithful it is to the book
2) How it compares to previous adaptations

On number 1, film directors always seem tempted to play with book adaptations, some striving to be as faithful as possible, or others being more adventurous with the format, such as Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (which will always be my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare’s play), or 2012’s version of Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (which I also thought was brilliant).

Another example for point 2 would be Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you’ve seen the original adaptation, known as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, filmed in 1971 and starring Gene Wilder), then it may have been quite hard to warm to the more recent 2005 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. It’s all a matter of which one you’ve seen first in some cases, as that’s the one you’ll come to associate most with the book. I’ve been thinking about book adaptations and wondering what my favourites have been, so I decided to come up with a list of my top 10 book adaptations on screen (in no particular order).

pride-and-prejudicePride and Prejudice
I loved both the BBC TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, as I particularly loved the actor chosen for Mr. Bingley. I only read Pride and Prejudice last year but I felt that I already knew the story inside out – it’s such a well-known story that it could probably be adapted into many different styles, in fact, the Bollywood version Bride and Prejudice was also good fun.

lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_king_xlgThe Lord of the Rings trilogy
This trilogy will always remind me of those long student winter breaks, and watching the extended versions of the films over the course of a few days with my brother who is a big fan of both the films and the books. I haven’t read the trilogy (I think I’ve read just 100 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring), but the world that J.R.R Tolkien created is brought to life on screen by Peter Jackson and the detail in each of them is astonishing. I miss being able to see them on the big screen at the cinema. There may also be some truth in the allegation that my love of men with beards comes from watching these films. Ahem.

Harry Potter series
I loved the books, as most book lovers of my generation do. Yes, the first few films have some cringe-worthy acting in them, but I love them all the more for it. It’s so nice to see the characters (and the actors who play them) grow up on screen. Perfect films to watch on a rainy afternoon!

Harry-potter-films

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago
The version I love is probably not the same as others have seen (I’ve heard many people love the film version starring Omar Sharif). For me it’s a TV adaptation – I think it was an ITV adaptation (starring Keira Knightley in her younger years) that came free with a newspaper many moons ago. I love the story, and it will forever remind me of winter in my old flat as I watched it whilst wrapping Christmas presents and making cards with my Christmas tree twinkling beside me. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my list – it’s such a beautiful story and the setting is wonderful which is why I think I fell in love with it. I’d be interested to watch the Omar Sharif film and see how it compares.

pp32424-audrey-hepburn-breakfast-at-tiffanys-posterBreakfast at Tiffany’s
I caught the last hour of this film on TV recently ago and it reminded me of just how much I love it, particularly Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the ‘genuine phoney’ Holly Golightly. I did enjoy Truman Capote’s novella, but in this case I think the film is far superior. A classic!

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

The Hunger Games trilogy
I thought the books in this trilogy were brilliant, I read them furiously, spending about a day over each of them. I remember finding it really hard to write book reviews for them as I couldn’t find a way to express how much I’d enjoyed them and was just finding my feet with blogging at that stage. I think Jennifer Lawrence is pretty great as well and look forward to anything she’s in. I have recently rewatched the first film as I hadn’t loved it the first time round – I felt it had been dumbed down (or made less harrowing) to appeal to a wider audience (aka making it a 12A so that kids would be able to see it and they could make more money at the box office). It’s much better on the second viewing, and the second film Catching Fire was far superior, although it seemed loads of details were missed out to get it within a reasonable time. I’m looking forward to seeing the final instalments which have been split into two parts, á la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series.

The film poster for Bright Young Things

The film poster for Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things
This is based on Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novel Vile Bodies – the film by Stephen Fry sticks pretty faithfully for it and it’s such a hilarious story. A glimpse of the young and pretty people in 1930s England, it’s as glamorous as the book is and really captures the whole feel of it. An example of an adaptation that sticks quite closely to the original story and works really, really well.

romeo_juliet_1996Romeo and Juliet
Do you remember the first time you studied a play by William Shakespeare in school? This was mine, and I remember watching this adaptation after studying it and appreciating for the first time how the play could come to life on screen and wasn’t solely fit for the stage. It’s a daring adaptation this, a modernised version, but it really works. It has the glamour and bright lights of all the best Baz Luhrman films – it’s magical, and is all the more heartbreaking for it.

Trainspotting
It doesn’t make for easy watching but it certainly packs a punch. It’s a powerful portrayal of the drug culture featured in Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title and has brilliant performances from Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlisle – it’s one of those films that once you’ve seen it, you certainly won’t forget it. It’s an iconic film that really captures the ’90s so well.

trainspotting-poster

A Tale of Two Cities (1935 adaptation)
I remember using this book for teaching when I was working in Spain and fell in love with a black and white film adaptation which I think is probably the 1935 version. The entire film used to be available on youtube but I can only find the trailer now. If you can track it down it’s well worth a watch!

I’m hoping to watch the adaptation of Diane Setterfield’s gothic thriller The Thirteenth Tale at some point this week as I have it saved on the iPlayer. I loved the book and I’m hoping the film will live up to it! What are your favourite adaptations? And which book adaptations are you looking forward to this year?

Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:

the-book-thief-poster-books-burningThe Book Thief (UK release on 14/02/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Under the Skin (UK release on 14/03/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Gone Girl (UK release on 03/10/14)
Book Review

Mockingjay: Part 1
(UK release on 21/11/14)
Film info

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Audio Review Round-Up

Up next on my reviews is an audio round-up. It’s been a while since I listened to some of these books and I find that if I haven’t written anything down about the books then I am likely to forget things… But here goes!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
whered-you-go-bernadetteThis has been on my radar for a while, after being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I thought it sounded like a fun read. At first I wasn’t sure about how the format would transfer to audio as the book is made up of a series of emails, letters, articles and messages and I thought it may get a little confusing. Happily, this wasn’t the case and I did get drawn in to the story. Semple captures perfectly the annoying superior voices of ‘soccer moms’, interfering in school life and judging other mothers. I thought it was a really fun book, and different too. It worked well in audio for the most part, although anyone who’s listened to the audiobook will struggle to remove the memory of the narrator screeching Oh holy night into their ears (in my case at 8 o’clock on an August morning. Not entertaining.) I loved Bernadette and her attitude to the know-it-all nosy mums at her daughter’s school, but was infuriated by her naïveté at times. I found her daughter Bee’s voice and attitude a bit immature to be 15, but this may be partly due to the fact that I had just read Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon! This is a fun book and I have already recommended it to a few friends, and the format works really well with the story.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
LIfe After LifeI loved this book, and I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t read a physical copy as I think I may have enjoyed it even more. Ursula is born on a snowy winter’s night, and as the cord is wrapped around her neck she draws what will be the first of her last breaths. This is a story of multiple chances at life and explores that notion of ‘What if?’ which I find fascinating – how she gets 2, 3, 4 chances at getting things right, and the different consequences that seemingly inconsequential actions will have. The nature of the narrative being that it jumps back and forth meant I could sometimes miss things and find it hard to skip back to work out what had happened. Aside from that one bug-bear I did enjoy Fenella Woolgar’s narration, her voice seemed to work perfectly with the story (I loved her in the Stephen Fry adaptation of Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Bright Young Things). I think I will be reading this book again at some point! This is nominated for the 2013 Costa Novel Award – given that it has missed out on Man Booker and Women’s Prize for fiction accolades I think it would be a very worthy winner.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Burial_Rites_HBD_FCI thought this book was wonderful as well, one of the most affecting books I’ve read this year. It’s a début from Hannah Kent, telling the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. The narrative focuses around the family charged with keeping Agnes as their prisoner before her execution, and involves Agnes’s recollections herself and those of the young priest trying to help her achieve some kind of absolution for the murder she has been accused of. Agnes is haunted by her past and memories of her lover Natan Ketilsson, who was brutally murdered in his own home. The story is compelling, all the more so as it is based on real events and that you already know how it must end. What I enjoyed in particular about listening to this book was hearing the correct pronunciation of Icelandic names and places – if I had been reading this myself I would have had some hashed guess in my head which can’t do justice to the music of the words. It’s a beautiful and moving book, and an interesting imagining of the last days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.

Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James
death comes to pemberley bookI chose this book as I thought it would be a light-hearted, Agatha Christie-esque foray into murder mystery, set at Pemberley with all of the characters of Pride and Prejudice. I can hardly begin to tell you how disappointed I was by this book. I found the first part tedious with its summing-up of everything that had happened in Pride and Prejudice and introducing the characters. Given that this book will appeal mostly to Austen fans, it all seemed a bit unnecessary and almost a way of filling out the book and it’s weak storyline. I didn’t even manage to finish it, abandoning it about 3/4s of the way through after enduring the tedious (again!) ramblings of the doctor, and the local constabulary. It completely lacked the sparkle and wit of Austen’s novel and seems like a weak spin-off. Lizzie Bennet featured far too little for my liking and everything seemed to be left to the men to sort out. I was sorely disappointed and wouldn’t recommend this at all…as you can tell from my other reviews, I’m not usually so vehement in my negative comments but this just didn’t work at all for me!
(This Digested Read from The Guardian pretty much sums up how I feel about the book. As does the cartoon.)

I still have 5 credits left to go on my Audible gold subscription (which I won in a competition run by Granta Mag) and I want to choose wisely – I want books that will keep me entertained without being too heavy, with engaging stories. I like to have some room for my mind to wander as I mainly listen to them whilst walking to work and my brain is not always completely switched on and able to appreciate lyrical prose first thing in the morning! And so, onto the next audiobook… I am once again considering The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym fame). I enjoyed listening to a crime story (Natural Causes by James Oswald) but having just abandoned a murder mystery I might need to have a rethink! Any suggestions?

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Book Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Pa`nop´ti`con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’]

panopticon

The premise of the book reminded me at first of Sarah Waters’ Victorian novel Affinity which also features a panopticon prison – I was recalling lectures about this from Uni and that creepy feeling you get when you learn something new that just won’t keep clinging to the back of your mind. Imagine having someone watching you, 24 hours a day.

The novel opens with fifteen-year-old Anais Hendricks on her way to the Panopticon, a care home for young people in rural Scotland somewhere (hidden away, more like). She can’t remember what has happened to her, but is told that she attacked a police officer who now lies in a coma. She is kept there with other young offenders and becomes part of a pseudo-family, the young adults forming bonds, looking after each other in ways that their care workers and parents are unable to do. Anais feels herself to be some part of an experiment, that not only is she being watched but her actions are being judged. The irony is that Anais is not being watched closely enough. She has spent her life drifting from one foster home to care home to another her whole life, with the most stable period in her life living with prostitute foster mother Rachel and living amongst her clients drug-dealer friends. For me, it seems that her obsession with an experiment hinges on her need to believe that there is some purpose for all that she is going through, that it is not all just random. She cannot believe herself to be insignificant.

I loved the idea of the game Anais plays – the ‘birthday game’ – where she invents a different beginning for herself, born into a rich family, or born into a family living in Paris, or born into a ‘normal’ family. The book breaks your heart in many ways. Anais seems so grown up and street-smart, although there are instances, and one particularly upsetting thing that happens to her, that show how vulnerable she is, how in need of proper care she is. Anais has been let down by everyone, her mother, her foster parents, her carers and care workers. It is a sorry depiction of what faces so many young people and how they must struggle by themselves to forge their own future. Anais is seen as a write-off, any more offences and she’ll be in juvenile detention and then, most likely, prison.

The characters around Anias all have their issues as well but none of them are quite as fleshed-out as Anais. Of course, Anais has to be something special to be the focus of this book – she is intelligent, she dresses differently, wearing vintage clothing and retro make-up so she doesn’t look like your ‘stereotypical’ young offender. From the blurb she is described as ‘Smart, funny and fierce, […] a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat.’ It makes her cool which annoyed me a little – there was a falseness to her character, as if it was intentional to set her apart from others, and meant she was above the others around her and that the fate that had befallen her was an injustice. It is, of course, but no more so than anyone else sharing their time with her in the Panopticon.

I really enjoyed this book, I thought it was intelligent, and the dialogue was in Scots so I loved the dialect of it. There is a lot of swearing in it, but you become sort of immune to it, you put up a barrier between the words and it makes you numb to them – you begin to accept it, a sad mirroring of how the young offenders become immune to all the bad things they witness. As I said, I enjoyed the book but on writing my review I find myself getting quite fired up by it, incensed by the story and what it says about our society, and our care systems. They are distinctly lacking.

There were elements of this that I think J.K. Rowling was trying to capture in The Casual Vacancy and her character Krystal Weedon who had a tough time of it with school, looking after her malnourished and neglected toddler brother and trying to keep her junkie mother off the drugs. The Panopticon says a lot more in a more interesting way and it is almost less depressing for it. Anais is fighting back, trying to reclaim her life and live out opportunities that never seemed to be available for her.

A2607-Graduate-named-on-Granta
The Panopticon was included in the Anobii First Book Award nominees in 2012 (which I talked about in my review of Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman) and was announced last week as a nominee for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards 2013 in the First Book category. You can see the rest of the nominees over on Creative Scotland’s website, although I am disappointed to see that Fagan’s book didn’t win its category.

granta
And, not forgetting that Jenni Fagan was on Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists earlier this year (full list of authors here), an accolade which comes but once a decade. Fagan is an author to watch out for, and I am sorely disappointed I missed her reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year with Sarah Hall and Evie Wyld (also on the Granta list).

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Book Review: Natural Causes by James Oswald

natural causesNatural Causes by James Oswald was another audiobook I picked up on my Audible subscription. I was browsing through loads of different books, not sure which to pick. I was swithering over reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (which is of course a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give in to the hype just yet. It set me down a crime route and I started looking at crime fiction, trying to pick something out. I fancied something light-hearted (if you can call crime fiction that!), just something with a good, gripping story as I was needing a change from biographies. Christopher Brookmyre’s books seemed like the perfect thing to fit the bill but I had a listen to the previews and was a little put off by the narrator’s voice. That was when I remembered about James Oswald’s crime book set in Edinburgh.

James Oswald is a farmer as well as writer, and originally self-published his book, selling it (for free) through amazon as an ebook. It’s a really interesting self-publishing success story – Oswald now has a publisher behind him, with Penguin releasing his books in paperback. It was this story that brought the book to my attention so I decided to give the book a go. I recently read Laidlaw by William McIlvanney and loved how it evoked the city of Glasgow and I was hoping that Natural Causes would do the same for Edinburgh. Inspector McLean is the detective in Oswald’s Edinburgh, trying to hunt down the killer after a gruesome crime where an old man is disemboweled, and the killer of a young woman sacrificed in some kind of Pagan ritual in the 1940s, and also trying to find out what the link between the two is.

I really enjoyed the novel, I found it entertaining and gripping, and I admit that I kept listening to it as I walked around the house, listening to it while cleaning or doing the dishes to fit in some more reading time! It was familiar and easy to get into, and I found myself quickly warming to Inspector McLean and sympathising with him (and the troubled past that is eponymous in Detective Inspector’s – is there ever a fictional DI who doesn’t have a troubled past/marital issues/substance abuse problem?). There were a few things that I think could have been done better, for example, Inspector McLean is constantly having technology troubles – his phone runs out of battery about 17 times, he forgets to replace the tape in the answering machine, he is boggled at his colleagues abilities with comupters… I found it a little wearing after a time, and started playing some kind of game in my head whenever his incompetence with technology was mentioned, giving myself a mental bingo point. Yes, there was a hint of predictability to the plot, but I enjoyed the book all the same, and liked walking about in Edinburgh thinking about the characters and where they had been; of clairvoyants on Leith Walk (there actually is a lot shop where you can have tarot card readings), and tourists and performers on the Royal Mile during the festival.

Oswald has another book out in the Inspector McLean series called The Book of Souls. I am interested to see if having an editor will make Oswald’s writing style a little more polished – the story, characters and atmosphere are all there but I think a little bit of editing would have helped to make the book really stand out. I’ll certainly read the next instalment at some point as I did enjoy Natural Causes. I do have a few other books on my list that I plan on reading first though…incuding those two other McIlvanney books in the Laidlaw trilogy!

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Tearjerkers

panopticonIt’s not often that I cry while reading a book. I’m not really sure why that is, as I find myself crying at TV programmes and films fairly often. I was recently reading Jenni Fagan’s wonderful debut novel The Panopticon and it had me welling up in the middle of my lunch hour. I had to stop reading to regain some modicum of control so I wouldn’t be blubbing into my laptop. (Those salty tears aren’t good for circuit boards I hear…)

So this had me thinking, which books have I found truly moving, enough to have me crying, either at the beauty of the novel, or the tragedy that is unfolding. I’ve come up with a short list:

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

captain corellis mandolinThis is the first book I remember crying over. I was reading it for a critical essay I was writing for my English Standard Grade. I can’t remember why I picked it – I think it may have been a recommendation from my Mum. Anyway, the bit that got me involved a firing squad and an act of bravery. I won’t say much more than that as I don’t want to give anything away but I remember sitting in the back of the car (most likely on one of the frequent trips to Glasgow to see family), having to stop reading so I wouldn’t start bawling and my brother wouldn’t give me a slagging for crying at a book.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song was a formative book in my life, in that it was the experience of reading it that made me realise that I wanted to go to university and study English. I’d always loved books but for some reason it had never really occurred to me before that this could be more than just a past-time. I had dreamt of being an author, of course, and had written short stories and childish novels but that was as far as the dream had gone. But getting back to the crying…I studied this as part of my Higher English course and it really spoke to me – I started looking at the landscape more and thinking more often about national identity and a person’s connection to their homeland. I cried at this in the middle of an English class, while my teacher read out a passage towards the end of the book about Chris’s husband and the First World War. There seemed to be some kind of collective grief going on as I remember several others in the class wiping their eyes as well…

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

j1cmqfdNever have I cried so much at one book than I did when I read Sophie’s Choice. I read it several summers ago, when I was still at uni and my flatmate had gone home for the summer, leaving me all on my lonesome. I was working almost full-time in a pub but even that didn’t seem to fill up my time off so much, so I spent hours and hours just lazing about reading. I love the memory of that summer, days stretching out in front of me… I had picked the book up at the local Salvation Army shop for 50p – it was an old battered edition with a film still with Meryl Streep on the cover. I had often heard comments about Sophie’s Choice but didn’t really know what it was about – boy was I in for a roller coaster ride! It is such a powerful book, and one that I think should be recommended reading for those who truly want to understand the Holocaust and the misery of the concentration camps. It put a lot of things into perspective for me, and despite History classes studying the Second World War, this was the first time that I really comprehended the devastation, cruelty and sheer number of casualties in the war. I would urge everyone to read it – although I’d also warn you that it certainly isn’t an easy-going read.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefAnd to the Second World War again with this one – it is a young adult book so slightly more accessible than Sophie’s Choice but by no means less affecting. It is the War seen through the eyes of young Liesel, adopted by a family in a new town and trying to understand the injustices and contradictions of the war and life in Nazi Germany. We follow her as she steals books and food, we see her being taught to read by her adopted father, we see her offering some solace to Jews and we hope that the war will not have too devastating an effect on her life. Which is too much to ask of course, the book is narrated by Death, the Grim Reaper, and from the very beginning you know that not everyone will survive. This is a very moving book, and one that is told so inventively.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

harrypotterhalfbloodprinceNow onto something a little more light-hearted (if you can call it that!). If you’re a Harry Potter fan then you’ll know what happens at the end of this book so I shall not divulge in case there is someone reading this who hasn’t succumbed (rather unlikely) to the amazing series that is Harry Potter. I can’t remember if I have re-read this one – I’ve definitely read the first five twice – but certainly every time a certain scene plays in the film I start welling up again…

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The History of LoveI can’t remember what sparked me off with this book particularly – it was just so beautiful and some of the images of book pages and words were just perfect. I wrote a review of this last year which you can read here if you’d like to know more – it was one of my more essay-like reviews so I think I’ll let it speak for me again!

I love having those moments with books, where you are just so involved and you can’t help but shed a tear or two. What are your tearjerker books? Have you ever cried while reading a book in public? One of these days I know I’m going to end up howling on a bus on my morning commute!

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The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling reveals the title and synopsis of her upcoming book for adults

J.K. Rowling

Although I imagine most people with an interest in books and publishing will have heard this news last week, I didn’t like to let it go by un-noted.  J.K. Rowling has announced that the title of her new book for adults will be The Casual Vacancy.  The synopsis on Little, Brown’s website describes the upcoming book as a black comedy centred on the election df a new member of the Parish Council in the seemingly idyllic English town of Pagford after the unexpected death of one of its members. The resulting election means war in the town and brings up “unexpected revelations”, revealing the darker side of Pagford lying beneath its idyllic façade.

I am intrigued about J.K. Rowling’s novel as she is in a unique position: the legacy of Harry Potter means that her first novel for adults will undoubtedly get a lot of press and, most likely, a higher degree of scrutiny than most new novels. I am really looking forward to it though, as I enjoyed the Harry Potter books not just for the world they created, but for Rowling’s ability to create memorable and conflicted characters and intelligent dialogue. The release of The Casual Vacancy on the 27th of September 2012 will be one to watch.

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