5 Books That Should Never Be Made Into Films

Yesterday I was reading an interesting list on cinemablend about their five novels they thought should never be made into films. This was a very interesting concept to me, seeing as how one of my hobbies is comparing novels to their film interpretations. I ask, what do novels add to films? What subtleties do films miss from the novels? More often than not the novel is better than the film. But there are those rare circumstances when, in fact, the film is better than the novel.

So without further adieu, my 5 novels that should never be made into films:

1) Nightwood – Djuna Barnes

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Nightwood is a twisted and torrid account of a love affair, and one of the first novels to explicitly detail homosexuality. The novel, however, is at times incomprehensible. A beautiful novel which recounts the effect the character Robin has on the other players. Robin is in a perpetual motion moving away from that which makes her unhappy without any real notion of what actually makes her happy. To really outline how difficult this novel is to read at times, T.S. Eliot proclaimed that “only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.” The novel is essentially poetry written in novel form, any attempt to make this novel into a film would destroy the absolute poetry one encounters while reading it. In fact this is a novel more about the poetry than it is about the plot or narration.

2) Island – Aldous Huxley

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Aldous Huxley’s final work Island and the sister to his influential novel Brave New World. The Island for Huxley represents his ideal Utopia. It chronicles many of his ideals for society, culture and economy. In fact many of the favorable conditions he outlines in Island are in direct opposition to those in Brave New World (Wiki does an excellent job showing the opposition). The novel also uses magical mushrooms as a spiritual guide. All of these elements would come off as trivial, and I doubt the screenwriter would keep all the lengthy conversations that exist throughout the novel, nor would they be able to capture the spiritual nature of the psychedelic experience.

3) Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

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Salinger’s most famous novel, Catcher in the Rye follows teen antihero Holden Caulfield. The ultimate novel to deal with complex teenager issues of identity, sexuality, and belonging. If this novel was made into a film I highly doubt that one could capture the complexity of this character without Holden coming off as a, well, whiney teenager. The good news is that Salinger was absolutely against a filmic conversion of his novel and this  is being upheld posthumously.

4) Nadja – Andre Breton

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A non-linear tale of a 10 day torrid love affair with the inexplicable Nadja. A semi-autobiographical novel, like Nightwood, the novel is written in prose form and is at times incomprehensible. The beauty of the novel is in the language, and again any “action” in the novel seems secondary to the very words which make them up. The visual imagery is arguably more beautiful than any photographic imagery a person could conjure up.

5) Labyrinths – Jorge Luis Borges

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This collection of highly imaginative stories are entirely dependent on the reader’s imagination to come alive. I took a class once in which we attempted to draw what we thought the Library from the Library of Babel would look like and everyone had a different interpretation  Making any of these stories into a film would be excellent creative fuel but would destroy the individual experience which makes the stories so unique.

Irma Voth: How Much Do You Believe?

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Is it possible to communicate loneliness if the only person you’re sharing it with is yourself?

Irma Voth is the 6th published work by Canadian author Miriam Toews and her 5th work of fiction. The novel follows the eponymous protagonist Irma through her struggles for identity and place within a rural Mexican Mennonite community. Toews once again pays homage to her own Mennonite descent by returning to a rural small town community as she did in A Complicated Kindness.

And while both novels follow young women during a critical phase in their life, Irma Voth is not entirely routed in reality as A Complicated Kindness is. I think this rhetorical effect is done both intentionally and inadvertently.

Irma is a textbook example of an unreliable narrator. As the filmmakers come to her community to film, Irma falls into their crowd and increasingly looses her grip on reality. This is made explicit in certain parts of the novel where she describes an event and goes so far as to say “no, that didn’t actually happen”. This was a rather enchanting part of the novel, one which made you sympathize with the character who has been emotionally abused her entire life.

Her escape is what I found more unbelievable. And maybe I’m just a pessimist, but I find the amount of people who give the girls breaks once she leaves the community unrealistic. The taxi driver, the random civil protestors, the hotel keeps, the random tattoo clad man… all beyond nice to her. And the scene in the move theatre where everything comes full circle and she learns about her husband’s fate. It all just seemed a bit too coincidental and revealing. Perhaps it was meant to be a biting social commentary on the nature of her home town being a harsh environment both physically and emotionally, and the greater wild world being less frightening than she was taught her entire life, but it just came off questionable.

This being said, Toews’ quality of writing remains strong, and it was interesting to see that the novel somewhat mirrors her own experiences in the film world. Toews made her first acting debut in a Mexican independent production, Silent Light, in 2007 about a Mennonite community. The Mexican film crew in the novel and the other actors were some of the strongest characters in the novel and would be interesting to hear if they reflected her own experiences.

And while I may have revealed quite a bit about the plot there are still several mysteries which riddle the novel. A good read and unique in its subject matter.

In Review: Damned

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(I swear, does it say “author of Fight Club” on every single one of his novels??)

Well, just finished the newest installation from the wickedly depraved mind of Chuck Palahnuik. And while not his best, it certainly is not his worst (Cough, Diary, Cough). Damned presents a delightful blend of homages to both popular literature (Judy Blume, etc.) and culture (Breakfast club, etc.) as well as classic literature (Paradise Lost, Charlotte Bronte, etc.). Mixed masterfully, all these elements begin to mingle in hell, mirroring the timelessness of hell itself.

The novel follows Thirteen year old Madison Spencer, daughter to infamous billionaire parents, who “overdoses on marijuana”* and end up in hell (*The real cause of her death is part of the mystery of the novel). Damned soon becomes a novel for looking back and understanding ones life, a meditation on the trails of being a teenager, as well as a vessel for reinventing oneself.

Without giving too much away from the plot, what follows is the notable mentions of can’t-pry-your-eyes-away-from-the-page moments:

  • Madison and her comrades watch as an old roman man plunges into the sea of insects only to be horribly eaten alive.
  • The various geographic locations of hell: The seas of insects, the sea of wasted sperm, the swamp of aborted fetuses, the desert of fingernail clippings, the hills of broken glass, etc.
  • Psezpolnica a giant towering demon receives cunnilingus from a severed head.
  • Charles Darwin flips the bird.
  • A description of a strange “kissing game” Madison learned at an all girls boarding school involving choking and the “kiss of life”.
  • Madison beat’s the crap out of Hitler and forcibly rips off hissignature ‘stash, which she then carries around with her on her belt… along with other “souveniors” she hijacks from notable monsters throughout history.

In short, the novel is frightfully entertaining, if not for the various references, characters and homages, but for the plethora of reasons one may enter hell… it seems as if everyone is doomed from the very start, if not for honking your car horn one too many times.

And most frightening of all? In the novel, it turns out all the creationist bible thumpers were right.

Summer Reading List – Part 1: Novels

Every Summer I have an obscene reading list which I attempt to get through. I often get through half, then buy 10 more books which lie in wait for next summer. During school it’s hard enough to find time to read the course books let alone any reading strictly for fun. So, minus the current book I’m reading which I’m planning to post a blog about and will omit for those purposes, here is my overwhelming to read list. In no particular order. Note: this list is but a fraction of all the books in my library I have yet to read, but I mean will I really be reading Kafka again anytime soon??

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Again, this is but a fraction of overall books to read, but, I’m a realist. 😉 Note: this also doesn’t include my Graphic Novel Reading list.

Beggar’s Garden Review

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Michael Christie’s breakthrough work had been on my radar for a long time. I had ordered it from amazon and it seems like it had been on backorder for a few months, the date being consistently pushed back. But it finally arrived and I couldn’t wait to crack it open. I was eager to read the touching stories about Vancouver’s illustrative downtown eastside. For the record: I work in the downtown eastside in a restaurant. My day consists of dodging hobos on my way to work, telling hobos not to pan-handle on the patio and get screamed at in return. What I’m saying is, this city hardens you. Sympathies fade. I was hoping this series of semi-interrelated vignettes would revive some emotions in me.

And for the most part it did. It spins the changing landscape through present and an unbreakable bond with the past. It takes you into the minds of those people you see but never from an overly tear-jerking or outright sanctimonious way. In a few of the stories, the main characters help the homeless people and seem to get more out of them than the vagrants do from them. A few of the stories delve into the serious problem of the mentally ill who wander the streets along with drugs addicts, sometimes bridging both territories.

Vancouver is a unique place in terms of its economy having both the richest and the poorest populace in the country within miles and even feet from each other. Homeless people come from all over the country strictly because of the warm climate and barely dipping below 0 degrees winter.

In a literary sense, my only complaint with this series of stories was that the tone and character persona did not waver dramatically for me. I enjoy a series of short stories which essentially showcase an authors various skills, ranging dynamically. But in this series each character could seem to be swapped out by any other one in another short story. So while this book provides a unique insight into the fragile world of the downtown eastside, I would have appreciated a little more variety. In this book it seems the title of the work is flawed, or perhaps I interpreted it wrong, it’s not a pluralistic beggar’s garden, but a singular beggar’s garden.