If you’d told me that I would consider not buying a book because it had Colin Farrell on the cover when I was thirteen, I would have told you that you were mad. Ballykissangel, Falling for a Dancer… I was young, leave me alone.
Anyway, it did nearly put me off buying a copy of A New York Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin which had been released with the poster from the new film, starring the aforementioned Colin Farrell (I’m over it) and Jessica Brown Findlay, but I was intrigued by the blurb which promised:
One night in New York, a city under siege by snow, Peter Lake attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks it is empty, the daughter of the house is home . . . Thus begins the affair between this Irish burglar and Beverly Penn, a young girl dying of consumption. It is a love so powerful that Peter will be driven to stop time and bring back the dead; A New York Winter’s Tale is the story of that extraordinary journey.
Who doesn’t like a love that defies death? But despite the blurb, that’s not really what you get. It’s more than that, and less than that. It builds to the point where you’re invested in the lovers, then spits them aside and moves on with the story. A bit like life I suppose.
Helprin is a fantastic writer and has created a vast and imaginative magic realist epic. The book is original, the writing nuanced and many of the minor character are more clearly realised than the main characters in the majority of the bestsellers you will find in bookshops. The problem for me that it slipped around between genres in a way that didn’t add to the story but detracted from it. Audrey Niffenegger showed us that you could have a masterful time-travelling love story, I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t have a time-travelling love story which leads to a quest, but for a reader to engage with a quest story they need to understand what the characters involved are hoping for, what they want or need to achieve. I loved the first three-quarters of this book, but it lost me towards the end as the characters began to run around in a desperate attempt to do something fuelled by a secret knowledge that the reader just didn’t share.
It’s a magical read for the most part, but the plotting towards the end was more than a little lacklustre.
While some of the fans reactions quoted in the article above are pretty funny, I can kind of see where they are coming from, because surely the great thing about Harry Potter was the concept of friendship? To reduce it to a retrospective, Harry should have gotten “the girl” (aren’t Hermione and Ginny more than just “the girl/s” dangled as rewards for the conquering hero/es?) risks devaluing some of the core values of the series.
I was a bit annoyed when JK Rowling came out with her retrospective “Dumbledore is gay”, not because it isn’t great for Dumbledore to be gay, but because it is and if she wanted to address his sexuality, she should have done it in the books. To come out with the revelation as an after-fact made it reductive, with it appearing as something of a quest for publicity. At least that might have been an attempt to do something positive though, to come out and quibble about something as fundamental as the Harry/Hermione/Ron friendship group erases some of the magic of the series.
Words cannot express how excited I am about seeing this trailer for The Book Thief movie…
It’s giving me actual shivers of anticipation. Doesn’t it look amazing? And I don’t normally say that when I see the trailer for a book I love. Sophie Nelisse is such a pretty girl but has an air of mischief which I think will be perfect for Liesel. The only problem is that while the US release date for The Book Thief is November 8th 2013 I have to wait until January 31st 2014 to see it in the UK. So frustrating, I feel like I’m having to patiently wait for everything at the moment!
While I’m on the subject of The Princess Bride, has anyone else noticed the parallels between The Princess Bride and The Mortal Instruments?
The Princess Bride written by S. Morgenstern, Clary’s brother called Sebastian Morgenstern…
Guilder and Florin located between modern Germany and Sweden, Idris (the Shadowhunter country) located between Germany and France…
Erm, yeah, so that’s me trying to start the shameless conspiracy that the S. Morgenstern who wrote The Princess Bride is actually Sebastian Morgenstern, Shadowhunter gone rogue, and that the lands of Guilder and Florin (located between modern Germany and Sweden by the author) are actually a codename for Idris (Shadowhunter country) which is located between Germany and France according to Cassandra Clare. Who may just be a fan of The Princess Bride too…
“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”
The Princess Bride
Call me a philistine if you will (and you may want to after this confession) but last week was my first true encounter with The Princess Bride. Don’t get me wrong, I’d heard of The Princess Bride– there are even Dread Pirates in The Sims for goodness sakes- I’d just never watched the film or read the book. Didn’t even know that there was a book. So when I came across the book in Waterstones I grabbed a copy (then paid for it) to read on the plane to New York.
Moving from The Mortal Instruments series to The Princess Bride, what first struck me was the coincidence that both books used the name S.Morgenstern. Then what struck me was that I wasn’t sure where the book started. I spent quite a while flicking through to see if the preface was full of spoilers or meant to be read. I couldn’t fully decide, it was crazy- was I reading a narrative frame or is this a genuine abridgement? Is this man seriously writing about his wife and son like this? Did his marriage end as a result? Absolutely bonkers. I loved it. Totally madcap.
Technically speaking it’s one of the worst narratives I’ve ever read, and yet the execution of it makes it the best. I can totally understand why it’s such a cult thing, even if Buttercup is in the most part a total drip. The thing is, while you’re reading it, you know that it’s highly probable that it is just a frame. You know that Guilder isn’t a real country (don’t you?) so you know that it’s really unlikely that he’s being pursued by the estate of Morgenstern. But then the crazy stuff with Stephen King and the adaptation of Buttercup’s Baby gets brought in and it doesn’t convince you but it genuinely does make you doubt what you know, and that’s where the genius of the book lies. The elements of “real world” coupled with the derision of the academics and an irreverent manuscript style trick you into suspending your disbelief in a way that some of the most highly respected fiction fails to.
Or maybe I’m just hopelessly naïve. Maybe it was a trick of the jetlag. But I like the idea that this book has made me less cynical. I’m ordering the DVD to watch while I’m in hospital next week.
So, I’ve just finished City of Bones the first book in The Mortal Instruments series and have to say, I quite enjoyed it. The plot is admittedly a little clunky at times, as though the author felt that dropping the hint once wouldn’t be quite obvious and though fans of the series will hate me saying this, some scenes were a little derivative of other YA or fantasy books/television (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer to name but a few), but that didn’t stop it being enjoyable. I will probably read the other books in the series, if only to see how the incest angle plays out.
Having said that, I doubt I’ll bother with the films until they are out on TV. Despite having a pretty good cast – Aiden Turner switching from vamp to werewolf and Robert Sheehan taking a turn as another smart mouthed teen caught up in a supernatural drama- the trailers seemed a little camp I’m not feeling a burning desire to see this.
A weekend or so ago, I went to see the film version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I will put it out there from the beginning that I rather enjoyed it, though could see why many people wouldn’t. For one thing, if you hadn’t read the book I don’t think you stand a hope in hell of following what was going on. If you have read the book, then it’s interesting to see how they’ve adapted the story to screen.
In many ways, the script and casting would have been better suited to a theatre production. I didn’t hate the idea of actors playing several characters (possibly because I spent too much time in drama groups as a teenager) but even I found it a little gimmicky towards the end. It is also very, very long. So long that if you haven’t seen it in the cinema yet, I would recommend waiting until it is released on DVD so that you can watch it but cut it into hour-long chunks at a time. On the whole I would have preferred it as a TV series.
In addition to the length and the rep style casting (which was clever but overdone) my main criticism would be that I think they over did it with the concept of reincarnation and made it the centre of the story in a way that it just wasn’t in the book. Once you’d finished playing what Charlie Brooker called something like Where’s Wally with famous people, you end up feeling like you’re playing spot the birthmark. Unless you haven’t read the book, friends I’ve talked to who hadn’t didn’t notice it.
My thoughts on each individual story and how they were adapted are below:
A Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Adam Ewing)
By far the driest story in the novel (though important, obviously) I think they did a great job of making this more interesting on the screen. They brushed over the darker elements of racial Darwinism and focussed on the story of an unlikely friendship between a professional white man and an escaped slave who become one another’s salvation. Which was a relief. I thought that Tom Hanks was reasonable here but when I read the book and thought about a film adaptation, I pictured Robert Downey Jr playing Henry Bones. Maybe I’d just watched one of the Sherlock Holmes films.
Letters from Zedelghem (Robert Frobisher)
This was probably my favourite story in the book. I loved Frobisher’s irreverent narrative and shady dealing s and I do think Ben Whishaw was perfectly cast, sadly this story was massively interfered with partly to reduce the film’s running time and budget, partly because… well who knows? The story is moved from Belgium to Edinburgh, Ayres is syphilitic but no longer blind. Nor is he nearly as vile as he was in the novel. The daughter is cut out completely, which makes it look as though Frobisher commits suicide as a result of a rejected pass at Vyvyan Ayres. My mind is still reeling from the horror of it. On the Brightside, you get to see Ben Whishaw naked. Which means I get to type that and net in unsuspecting googlers who aren’t in it for his acting talents.
The First Luisa Rae Mystery (Luisa Rey)
Halle Berry was pretty good here, it’s just a pity that you don’t really get much information about why everyone is being killed. Hugh Grant is smarmy. I’m not sure Tom Hanks in a blonde wig is a love at first sight thing. By far the worst thing about this story was that they had Agent Smith from The Matrix playing another bad guy. Actually he cropped up as Agent Smith from The Matrix in some of the other stories as well. Must’ve been a glitch in the matrix…
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Timothy Cavendish)
Another great story in the book, this was well adapted in the film and made me laugh almost as much as reading the book did. Though when I laughed at Tom Hanks’ Irish accent, it wasn’t in a good way. I was a little confused about why they tried to make this story look like a reincarnation link between Luisa Rey and Somni-451, since the Luisa Rey story is set in 1975 and Timothy Cavendish is present day and 65, so the dates don’t work. This is made clearer in the book by Cavendish wanting to edit allusions to reincarnation out, but I guess that doesn’t work with the “message” of the film. Oh, and you get to see Ben Whishaw in drag. Sorry, need those google hits.
An Orison of Somni-451 (Somni)
Again, well adapted and this story was visually stunning. I think they blew their production budget here which explains why they had to save on Hugh Grant’s make up in every other story. The book is far nastier than this extract in the film. A lot has been cut eg. Somni’s time as a student’s Science project and the horrible moment with the little fabricant doll. I thought one of the eeriest bits of the book was when Somni explained to the archivist that everything she had told him had been a story and that she wasn’t the first ascended fabricant- they cut that for the film but I thought they made up for it quite well.
Sloosha’s Crossin an’Ev’thin’ After (Zachary)
To be fair to Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, I think they acted this as well as they could have done with this. You lost a bit of dialogue from the dialect, but otherwise this was well acted and the setting was beautiful. My main issue was that in the book Zachary is a teenage boy when you see his father and brother killed/taken at Sloosha’s crossing and it explains his fear of Old Georgie without making him look like a coward who sat back and watched a child die. Tom Hanks’ Zachary was harder to like because you don’t see the death of his father, the disappearance of his brother, the loss of his baby when he’s still very young. So to make Zachary and Meronym the same age… meh. I wasn’t a big fan but it was well enough done for what it was.
The whole film was really stylised; lots of balletic movements, physical stage scenery blending into very stagey settings, characters observing the action from wings and galleries. It was beautiful but oppressive which matches the feel of the novel quite well.
The pace of the film was frantic, which I guess it had to be to fit in as much of the novel’s content as it did. I was really impressed by how much the film tried to cover, though I think that without reading the book you wouldn’t fully appreciate the relationships between characters like Kitty and Levin.
Matthew Mcfayden played Oblonsky brilliantly, for me he brought a warmth and humour to the character that Tolstoy tried to suggest but didn’t quite manage to convey. Jude Law was great as Karenin, evoking both disgust and sympathy. I wouldn’t have known it was Law if I hadn’t seen the billing beforehand. Keira Knightley was much better than I expected her to be, but her inability to alter her voice at all when she acts always means that for me, she’s playing Keira Knightley, her wild-eyed acting made her look a lot like Winona Ryder, which made me think how much better Ryder would have been at playing this part. I’m not sure who decided that Vronsky should be blonde (he’s clearly described as being dark) but it suited Aaron Taylor-Johnson well enough, and let it be a testimony to his good looks and acting skills that he managed to carry off the porn star moustache without looking completely sleazy.
Impressive, with fantastic costumes and scenery, but I can’t help hoping that one day someone will do a less stylised, more comprehensive TV adaptation.
Not real. In fact, this statement has been bugging me all week.
I started reading the books when our editorial assistant lent me the first after having enjoyed it herself. I got hooked, not only is it compelling reading, but FINALLY a young adult heroine who has some guts, fight and more important things to worry about than the love triangle she’s in.
For anyone who has been hiding under a rock with no access to any form of media, The Hunger Games has been accused of being a Battle Royale rip off because it features a contest in which teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 are forced to fight to the death, the winner being the survivor. In both books this is a means of controlling the populations of futuristic dystopias, in The Hunger Games this is overt, the games are a punishment for an uprising by the thirteen districts 75 years before, in Battle Royale it’s less overt- the government pretend it’s a military experiment.
As a result of this similarity, people have called The Hunger Games a rip off of Battle Royale. I guess it is then. In the same way that Battle Royale is a rip off of concepts like The Running Man and television programmes like Sliders which used the story line of game shows in which people fight to the death or struggle for survival prior to the publication of Battle Royale in 1999. But then if that makes any of these works bald-faced rip offs, then someone needs to have a word with Mr Shakespeare’s agents or estate because, damn, people have been ripping off the whole star-crossed lover thing that he did in Romeo and Juliet for centuries now. What? What do you mean he ripped it off from someone else?
I guess the point with any story or film is, does a work that shares a concept with a novel as striking as Battle Royale have enough originality and flair to pull it off successfully in its own right? I would argue that The Hunger Games does. The cultural commentary is less than subtle but sharp as a knife as it parodies the current obsession with reality TV and the image of its “stars”, the Capitol’s investment in Showmances and intrigues inviting the reader to take a clinical look at their own participation in a less extreme form of this culture (do any of you or have any of you watched The Hills, Jersey Shore, Big Brother or Castaway by any chance?)
If I was going to compare Suzanne Collins’ efforts with The Hunger Games to anything, it wouldn’t be Battle Royale, that’s too obvious and doesn’t do The Hunger Games justice. In many ways they are crueller and uglier than the world of Battle Royale. Terrible, yes, that adults should send children to kill each other to control a populace. Worse still that the same adults should watch it for sport. But to have adult Gamemakers pushing buttons which starve, suffocate and burn children as they are taunted by birds which scream with the voices of their loved ones being tortured? That’s worse still.
For me, The Hunger Games is like Margret Attwood for young adults with Katniss Evergreen as a Handmaid who is thrust to the forefront to become a symbol of hope in a world which seeks to destroy her. The mutations were like echoes from Oryx and Crake to me, an abuse of science which lead to pain and suffering for mankind. The smoking borders of the legendary district 13 were like the nuclear fields that characters were sent to toll in when they were deemed of no future use to society in The Handmaid’s Tale.
So are The Hunger Games a blatant rip off of Battle Royale? Only if you are too crude to read the subtleties. I enjoyed them immensely and will be going to see the film on Saturday. And possibly taking archery lessons, though Holley Maher assures me that these side effects are common and will pass with time…