Literary Adaptations: Episode 1

I’ve decided to occasionally make an effort to watch the screen adaptations of some of the books that I read. I tend to watch shows each evening for a bit, and why not mix it up with some fun comparisons of the books and adaptations? Some adaptations come with tons of forewarning–for good or bad–from friends who have watched them already, and there are some that I’d never heard of. I’ll make this an occasional feature, perhaps in groups of three adaptations. Here are the first three.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

📘 Book (2018): 7/10

This was my first Liane Moriarty and I went into it with no expectations. It was an “unexpected pleasure” in the end. It was well plotted, with lots of interesting twists and turns and was never boring. The best part was how Moriarty made her characters so likeable, warm and truly human. I got to know them, rooted for them, and wished them well at the end. It wasn’t a thriller so much as a psychological study of people and what drives them, including the “antagonist” Masha, who was also written with a hefty dose of compassion. A fun and engrossing read.

📹 TV Show (2021): 3/10

I’d heard rumblings that the show was not well done, but I went into it with a completely open mind. In fact, I thought the first two episodes of this eight episode limited series were quite excellent. I liked the casting choices for the most part, and the acting was quality. I even had some ability to see past the fame factor of Nicole Kidman here, and she was okay! Then…what happened, Amazon Prime? The plot started to deviate from the book. At first a little, then a lot. It changed from a retelling to an “inspired by.” That’s okay if it's equally as good or better, but it wasn’t. Backstories were changed. And one plot point that had been only one of many compelling stories hijacked the entire last half of the series. No thanks! In fact, I was so bored by it that I started scrolling on my Insta and playing online Scrabble. Not recommended.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

📘 Book (1972): 8/10

I really liked this book. The writing evoked a strong sense of place: rural New Mexico, during World War II, in the Hispano culture. It is a coming of age story exploring young Antonio’s spiritual evolution as he tries to make sense of the world and his place in it. He becomes a pupil of Ultima, an elder who lives with his family and a curandera (a healer, herbalist and midwife influenced by traditional Spanish, Indigenous and some Catholic mysticism). Antonio explores traditional curandera mysticism, his family’s fervent Catholicism, and local magical spirituality (of note, the “magic carp”). One of the most compelling characters was Florence, a boy who is a staunch atheist and challenges the community’s deep-rooted Catholicism. The first half of the book was interesting but slowly paced. However, the second half, as Antonio prepares for catechism and struggles more acutely with the questions he has about religion and spirituality were really thought provoking and absorbing, even page-turning.

📹 Movie (2012): 5/10

First, the positives. This movie was gorgeous. It truly captured the beauty of New Mexico, and the rich ochre-sepia palette was beautiful to look at. I loved the way that the settings in the movie did enhance my reading, because it seemed very true to the book: Antonio’s home, the walk to school, the bridge where the kids raced across, the river, and this uncle’s farm. The use of light in this film was effective to showcase some of the magical realism. Some dream sequences were truly haunting. Unfortunately, the film suffered from not enough time to do the full story justice. It omitted so much of the complexity of the book. The entire mythology of the magic carp was cut, and the character of Florence was toned down and thus lost its poignant bite. It felt as though this movie was beautiful to look at but flitted across the surface of the narrative so that it gave you a tiny taste but not the literary meal, leaving me hungry at the end.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
📘 Book (1962): 8/10

This suspense/horror novel, the final book Jackson wrote, was celebrated as perhaps her finest work. Its themes, including “othering” and mob mentality, were not always well received historically. Merricat lives with her older sister Constance, who never leaves the family estate, and their Uncle Julian, whom the girls care for. Years ago, most of their family was murdered and the villain never caught. Townsfolk are quick to blame Constance, but Merricat takes the brunt of their ill will when she walks to the village twice a week for supplies.

The writing evokes a palpable aura of threat. I wondered right away if Merricat was an unreliable narrator. I liked her, but was also afraid of her, and I was enchanted by her magical thinking. For her, objects hold power; they are totems of safety or harm. She engages in delusional denial, with child-like black and white thinking. I will not say more, except that this slim volume kept me guessing the whole way through.

Jackson proves herself a master of ominous foreshadowing. The tone was remarkable, because there was such heaviness and suspense, but she also played with gentle humour and good will, showing us familial love and tenderness. The house was a safe place, and outside held horrors.

I think that made the crucial climax all the more frightening and impactful. Because that love and safety was threatened, it felt so scary, particularly the sudden and violent wrath of the townspeople coming together in an orgy of hate. This was a powerful scene.

📹 Movie (2018): 7/10

I think we have a winner! This adaptation was fantastic. The colour scheme was bright, the costumes were vintage and amazing, and the acting was fantastic. The actors were able to capture the literary characters so well. In particular Alessandra Daddario, in the role of Constance, was captivating. I actually think that the movie was able to ramp up the violent edge in the crucial house fire scene, which is saying a lot. It was directed by Stacie Passon, whom I’d never heard of, but she’s done quite a lot, and it makes me want to investigate more of her work.


Stay tuned for Episode 2 of Literary Adaptations!