Category Archives: Adaptations

Vertigo – Boileau & Narcejac trans. Geoffrey Sainsbury 

A few years ago when my children were much younger and we were too skint and tired to go out much,  we started catching up with classic movies and foreign language films we’d never, but should have, seen.  Our LoveFilm subscription was well used during these years.  Flicking through the “films you must see” lists identified a Hitchcock sized gap in our knowledge of his back catalogue which we worked hard to plug.  Vertigo is a particularly disturbing one and based almost frame by frame on the chapters in this book (although the ending is different) by French crime writing duo Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac.

This is less a classic crime thriller and more a claustrophobic, psychological melodrama dripping in behaviour so obsessive it drives the main character, Flavieres, to the brink of madness. His innocuous task, carried out as a favour to an old friend, to follow and observe the friend’s wife who is behaving oddly and thought to be suicidal, swiftly spirals into stalkerish obsession with this ethereal creature. Even his eventual friendship with this woman does little to tone down his increasingly bizarre means to remain close to her. Several years later he impossibly catches a glimpse of her once more, setting him on his previous destructive path.

The stifling atmosphere of this book is made even more stark by the references to German invading forces moving ever closer to Paris and the later depressing descriptions of the post-war state of that beautiful city.  As Flavieres’ behaviour becomes more desperate, he begins to unravel, he’s unhinged, so the pace picks up hurtling the reader forward to witness the tragic end you know must be coming; I read the last pages through the gaps between my fingers, like I watched the end of the film, not really wanting to read/watch but having a gory fascination with needing to know how it all ends.

As a character Flavieres is rather pathetic,  but I had enormous sympathy for him.  He is used so abominably and thrown to one side by someone he thinks of as a friend. Over the course of the book his personality changes immensely because of this woman who he believes will alter the course of his life; she does have that effect, but not as he’d imagined.  And here’s the cleverness of this twisted psycho-drama; as you read on, you know this sort of thing could happen to any of us. Brilliant.

Pushkin Press have released a series of 20th century European crime fiction named after this book.  The Vertigo series jacket artworks are all similar to this one; bold colours and overlaid text very reminiscent of mid-century modern designs. Check them out here.

Max has also done a review of this one here. He’s recently done a review of another Boileau-Narcejac She Who Was No More here.

David Peace – Red Riding 1974

imgresRelentless, uncompromising, unyielding, fierce, harsh.  I could add many more one word superlatives to try to describe David Peace’s writing.  I had a brief conversation about Peace with a writer who described his writing as “dazzlingly oppressive” which sort of hits the nail on the head, and explains why he’s the writer and I’m not.  wpid-2013-03-24-21.08.51.jpgIn fact, this is all I scribbled in my notebook once I’d finished his book, much less than my normal lengthy notes about plot, character, structure and lots of quotes.  This is not a book to read if you are feeling a little fragile or you are easily shocked, but despite its brutality it feels like such an honest novel.  It left me quite speechless (as is evident from the one word write up in my notebook) and I had a sleepless night once I’d finished it, but I look forward to reading the second book in this quartet like I look forward to picking a scab; you know there’s going to be a certain amount of pain involved, but you can’t help yourself because it sort of feels good.

THIS IS THE NORTH.  WE DO WHAT WE WANT!

Eddie Dunford has recently returned to Yorkshire, revelling in the opportunities his new job as North of England Crime Correspondent with the Yorkshire Post has to offer, but still dreaming of a Brighton flat with sea views and southern girls called Sophie or Anna while mourning the death of his father.  He has a lot to prove to himself and his work colleagues who all think he is still wet behind the ears; working in the south doesn’t count for anything in their eyes and his father’s words are still ringing in his ears.

The South’ll turn you bloody soft it will

He is naive and a bit big for his boots but the story of a missing 10 year old girl is his opportunity to make a big impression in his first week on the paper.  The story turns out to be more complicated than one missing girl and involves corruption and depravity within the newly formed West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police, the local council, local business and at the paper.  As Dunford begins to uncover some of the nastiness surrounding this case, he feels conflicted and confused, getting himself into more and more trouble because he can’t turn a blind eye.

The horrors in this book run deep but what Peace does so brilliantly is to show the transformation of Dunford from one of the vulture reporters at the initial press conference for the missing girl, all of them desperate for her to be dead because that makes a much more interesting newspaper story, to a man frantic to uncover the truth at any cost, but with little success other than to send himself into a spiral of crazy behaviour.  He’s not much better than the rest of them, but deep down he does care.

David Peace manages to portray the Yorkshire of the seventies as a lawless, wild west frontier type place, where normal rules don’t apply and men are tough, mean and in charge.  Where you find

..the Strafford Arms, the hardest pub in the North

…Uncle Eric holding court, proud the only time he ever left Yorkshire was to kill Germans.

…a four hour tour of local hell…Hard towns for hard men.

and Zulu, Yorkshire style.

A long way from God’s Own County.

Peace’s writing is lyrical, with a sing-song quality that keeps the pace moving at the same high speed Dunford drives his father’s Viva along to roads of West Yorkshire.  It is incredibly visual (“that face and that hair, up close and near, a melted black plastic bag dripped over a bowl of flour and lard”) which is hard to bear at times considering the violence contained in the 300 pages, but makes the story so much more hard hitting and goes some way to explain why the quartet was adapted by Channel 4.  There is an honesty to his writing.  He is not afraid of the whole spectrum of emotions including graphic descriptions of the physical reactions to those emotions – it is reality, so why is it not seen more often in fiction, despite its disgustingness (is that a word?)?

I read an interview with David Peace in the Guardian where he says “if you want to write the best crime book, then you have to write better than Ellroy.”  I think he’s up there with Ellroy; this work is part genius, part insanity, like riding a waltzer at the fairground and my family knows what happens to me when I do that.  I feel sick yet dizzyingly light-headed at the same time – it’s ever so slightly addictive.

A treat for Valentine’s Day

This may be quite rash of me as I am about to recommend something that I have never read. How about that for a new concept?!  But I am quite confident you will like it!

Let me give you a bit of background.  In March last year I happened to be in the car coming home from somewhere or other (that bit is not important) at the time when the afternoon play was just starting on BBC Radio 4.  Now, I don’t have a digital radio in my car, it’s too old and there is only so much Jeremy Vine I can take.  In fact, let me re-phrase that, I can’t bear Jeremy Vine and I feel too old for Radio 1, (it’s just noise isn’t it?), so in the car it’s Radio 4.

imgres-2I was instantly drawn in by the dulcit tones of David Tennant.  The play was an adaptation of the international bestselling German language book Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer.  The concept is quite simple, two people fall in love via email.  The chemistry between the two characters Leo (David Tennant) and Emmi (Emilia Fox), was mesmerising and before I knew it I was home and sitting in the car on the drive waiting for the end.  I literally did not want to miss a second.  I immediately told my friend who likes True Blood and she listened on the iplayer.  We agreed that it was the best thing we’d heard on the radio for a long time.   Since then, I have read several reviews of the book, but never quite got round to reading it myself.

imgres-3But wait – it gets better.  You will never guess what is happening now?  Later today Radio 4 is broadcasting the sequel to Love Virtually with the same cast.  Every Seventh Wave is going out at 2.15 on Radio 4 – and I will definitely be tuning in.  Now, I’ve read a lot of fiction lately about grief, loss and loneliness so you might be forgiven for thinking I don’t have a romantic bone in my body.  But that is where you would be very wrong.  In fact I adore a good love story, as long as it’s not too cheesy.  The radio version of Love Virtually ended with me wanting to know more about what happened to Leo and Emmi so I am really excited about this new adaptation and just hope it is as good as the first installment.

For those of you who want to listen to Every Seventh Wave live on Radio 4, but maybe missed Love Virtually last year, you can catch up with it on YouTube as it is no longer available on the iplayer.

You can also read an extract from Every Seventh Wave here

Happy Valentine’s day to all you romantics out there!

Pride & Prejudice and me.

imgres-3Today is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice but until quite recently I had never read any Jane Austen.  I’m not sure I’d even seen any of the many adaptations.  There, I’ve said it.  I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest but I feel like I’ve confessed to some awful literary crime!  What could possibly account for this gaping hole in my reading education?  Snobbery, I think.  I suffered from some of the flaws Austen’s characters themselves are burdened with!  I just had this feeling she wasn’t for me – I was too busy reading what I thought were slightly cooler, non-mainstream books.  I thought she was twee and god-forbid a bit too girly.  Just thinking about this now makes me embarrassed.  I should have listened to the advice I offer my children at tea time; “how do you know you don’t like it when you’ve not tried it?”

imgres-4So what changed?  A bookclub discussion happened, that’s what.  It was just over two years ago if I remember correctly and I think we’d just read a totally awful book called The Jane Austen Book Club (really, it’s not even worth looking up), and we talked about the fact that in our long existence we’d not read any Austen ourselves as a group, although other members raved about her.  I kept my Austen-esque thoughts to myself, vowing to rebel against any attempt to get her on our reading list.  I don’t know what made me change my mind, but on new year’s day two years ago I picked up a battered copy of Pride & Prejudice I’d found on our bookshelf, but weirdly I don’t know where it came from – spooky.  I know people say this sort of thing and you never quite believe them, but believe me when I say I was immediately hooked.  When Mr FH found me glued to the sofa and asked what I was reading, I did that whole guilty look thing like a teenager caught in the act of reading Jilly Cooper and mumbled something about seeing what all the fuss was about.   I read it late into the night for two nights running, before turning straight back to the start and beginning again.

imgres-5Why did I have such an emotional response after having been so against the whole idea of reading Austen?  I’m not sure really, several things could have contributed.  I had such low expectations to start with, so was completely blown away by the precision of her writing.  I hadn’t seen any of the adaptations to spoil the story for me, so had several heart-in-mouth moments waiting to see what may take place.  It has a perfect story arc, characters change and develop through the chapters and despite only being a “poor female” Elizabeth Bennett is bright and quick-witted, if a bit infuriating.  The supporting characters come alive on the page and remind you of kind, loyal, silly or annoying characters in your own life.  And despite my own pride, at the end of the day it is the most romantic and timeless love story, I mean, who wouldn’t be won over by that?

Now I’ve read the book I’ve also caught up with the two more recent adaptations.  You can’t really avoid the imgres-12005 version with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen.  It seems to be regularly on the TV, but after reading this great compare and contrast of the 1995 BBC seriesimgres-2 and 2005 film by BundleofBooks, I was persuaded to borrow the 1995 version from my library.  Both are good in their own way, but the 1995 version steals it due to its more authentic take on the story. I hoped the BBC would repeat it for the anniversary, but it seems not.

In honour of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice Professor John Mullan filmed a short piece about our love of this book for The Culture Show last week which you can see here: Our love affair with Pride and Prejudice.  If you are interested in a thorough and beautifully written 3-part review of Austen’s most famous work, then please head over here to Booksnob, who wrote an amazing post about it earlier last year.  Another great source on everything Austen is Austenonly – full of fabulous information about the writer and her works.

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I’ve re-read Pride & Prejudice at least twice since then and listened to the audiobook several times as an antidote to painting and decorating I had to get on with last year.  I’ve also read all the other completed Austen books and now have a favourite and least preferred.  Pride & Prejudice holds a special place in my heart as my first Austen, but I have to admit to Persuasion being my outright favourite but only by the slimmest of margins and after eight years of an Austen-free zone at bookclub we have chosen to read it later this spring.

Prepare to be petrified

Last night I paid good money to be frightened almost to the point of hysteria.  Against our scaredy-cat better judgement, a few of us went along to the local picture house to watch the recent Hammer adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. 

Quite honestly, the fact that the film was produced by Hammer should have been a clue to how we may react, and as women of a certain age having all recently read the book, frankly we should have known better!

There has been a lot of media surrounding this latest adaptation of Susan Hill’s unsettling tale of a vengeful spirit that wanders the halls of a spooky house, wreaking havoc in the local area.   Susan Hill has been talking very openly about her thoughts on Jane Goldman’s screenplay, she seems genuinely pleased about the outcome and delighted by the additions and the cast.  She has a very pragmatic approach to her novel being adapted – once she gave up the rights to the book, she relinquished the rights to have a say in how it should be presented in other media (how grown up!)  It seems to be her fans that have had the most to say about the way the book has been changed to fit cinema.  This is not a review of the book or the film, just my thoughts on how they compare and affected me. I have a caveat to add here:  I scare easily.  (Attention:  possible spoilers coming up)

In the book, the main character is an ageing solicitor, Arthur, looking back at an episode in his life that has affected him profoundly.  His visit as a young man to Eel Marsh House, a place cut off from the mainland by a causeway flooded by the tide, and his encounter with a ghost there had huge repercussions on his life.  He is at a stage where he needs to finally exorcise the demons conceived while working at the house on the paperwork and estate of a recently deceased client.  The story then works in flashback as Arthur regurgitates his tale on paper.  The encounter he has with the vengeful spirit at the house in the marshes brings his terror back to him, as he attempts to completely rid himself of the memories.

The structure of the film is very different.  I guess flashback in film rarely works well, so we see Arthur as a young solicitor, a grieving widower and father, struggling to hold down his job.  We experience the haunting with him first hand.  In cinema this structure works very well – you get a linear storyline, you know where you are.  There is however something quite unnerving about the way that in the book, Arthur’s memories of the original event terrorise him all over again as he tries to erase them.

Stillness, silence and noise create so much of the unsettling atmosphere of the book. Arthur hears noises in the marsh, noises in the house sandwiched between episodes of silence and stillness when, even as a reader you are listening for the next sound and can feel and hear your own heart beating against your ribs in anticipation for what is to come. The film, as you would expect is full of big noises.  Firstly there is the soundtrack; suitably spooky.   More terrifying are the periods where there is no sound, no music and even more effective, no dialogue.  You are lulled into a false sense of security, sucked into the visuals, your ears turn themselves off and then, wham!  a big sound, screaming, barking, birds cawing, clock-work toys starting up, doors slamming.  I’m not too proud to tell you that it terrified me.  The visuals in the film were spooky, but the sounds were very frightening.

There is an underlying theme in the book relating to how the characters and the reader feels about children.  This is set up early on in both the book and the film.  In the film you see Arthur with his son who despite being only 4 is clearly concerned about his father’s happiness.  In the book and film you witness a meeting between Arthur and his boss where they discuss the client whose papers Arthur is due to put in order.  Arthur asks whether there were any children.  His boss hesitates with his answer, which is different in the film to the book, but still gives you enough of a feeling that something is not quite right.

Whereas in the book the children of the village are alluded to and only seen on a few occasions, they are ever-present in the film.  Of course there is also the child that is the source of the ghost’s vengeful activities, always in the background.  There is something incredibly spooky about wholesome children in a horror film, if that is not enough to send you over the edge, the plethora of Victorian wind-up toys will send you diving under your cardigan as soon as a cymbal-clashing monkey enters the screen.  The dominance of children as a theme in the book and film, sets up the shocking ending very nicely – you can almost feel it coming.

I don’t want to spoil things too much for potential readers of the book or viewers of the film by revealing the endings.  They are completely different to each other.  My vote definitely goes to the ending of the book.  It is much more shocking.  Although you are expecting something awful to happen, I didn’t anticipate the events of the book’s final pages.  The film is slightly less satisfying.  We were left with a few questions as to what the end meant – but I guess chatter of that nature is much more pleasing to a film-maker than punters leaving the screening berating their work and wishing they hadn’t wasted their cash.

I don’t want to talk about the performances of the actors in the film in any great detail.  I thought they were all pretty decent actually.  Daniel Radcliffe was believable as Arthur – although I think he could do with a voice coach, there are times he sounds still very young.  However he admirably managed to convince me of his grief and fear throughout.

I am glad I spent my money being scared stupid last night.  There was quite a bit of giggling in the theatre and it was all down to either embarrassment at screaming in public during a film or through genuine hysteria brought on by fear!  Which ever way you come to experience The Woman in Black, book or film, it is a good old-fashioned, unsettling, fear-inducing ghost story.

Please check it out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as long as you are prepared to be petrified!