It is a truism that when yo have read the book you are disappointed with the film. But it is not always that way round. Some English teachers counsel their students to watch a good film or mini-series to help them with a text. And some writers who are self-confessedly (or not) mediocre have their works turned into terrific films. One of the latter sort is Stephen King, we are told, who calls himself the literary equivalent of Big Mac and Fries. There is a good piece on this in today's Times (paywall) by John Sutherland. Another such writer is Alistair Mclean. But I am inclined to disagree. I think Stephen King's books are brilliant, in fact it is too long since I read one. I think I saw one of the films once and it was a bit rubbish. Grand Guignol. The Shining, it was. Much as I love Jack Nicholson, it was dreadful stuff. King's stories have a grounded ordinariness that makes sense of what happens. If you live in a world of horror then there is no new horror. In a small town in Maine horror really is horror. In "It", which I read about 20 years ago, there is an image which will probably always stay with me, that of a child's toy boat sluicing along a gutter towards a drain after a rainstorm. After which... The Times piece was notionally pegged to the hugely popular David Nicholls novel "One Day". which I have not yet read and which has now been filmed. It is hugely popular because the demographic it describes is just now beginning to have mortgages and children and not go out and get wasted every night. Therefore having more time and inclination to read books than previously.
Anyway, I am a huge fan of Pedro Almodovar. His latest "La Piel Que Habito" (The Skin I Live In) is just out here. I don't know if his previous films have been based on books at all, but I happened to read a review of the film in the French media last week which indicated that this was the film of a French novel, "Mygale" ("Tarantula" - didn't someone else once write a book called that? Never mind). That book, by the late Thierry Jonquet, was a big success in France at the time, about ten years ago, and was translated into English a few years later. The review said that fans of the book would be disappointed in the film, so I thought I had better read it before seeing the film. Regular readers know my feelings about works in translation, but I read a lot faster in English than I do in French, so I got that nice Mr Amazon to fetch me the English translation. I should have read the French. It is very short, and is creepy (sort of) misogynist porny horror. That kind of stuff makes more sense in French, and philosophers often write approving articles about it while wearing black polo-neck sweaters and shacking up with blonde pop princesses (yes you, BHL). I disliked the book intensely. So I am hoping and expecting to like the film a lot. My understanding of Spanish is minimal at best, so I shall have to rely on the French subtitles, which will probably be more appropriate than English ones would be. If you get my drift. I increasingly find that watching a film without subtitles feels somehow incomplete. Even if the film is in British English. I have taken to watching old episodes of The West Wing with the subtitles, and it surprises me how much of the dialogue I missed first time round.
So - film or book? And does it matter? The same applies I guess to plays. I don't go much to the theatre, and when I do I usually seem to be watching my son on stage in military uniform, but when we were in London in April we made an exception. "The Children's Hour" by Lillian Hellman. About reputation and abuse. A fascinating play. But Keira Knightley was truly dreadful in it - Keirs, looking tops in a pencil skirt isn't all there is to it you know - so in a way I wish I hadn't seen that production. Oh and the next night we went to the first night of a hilarious new production of Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's piss-take of the Gothic novel, featuring, you guessed it, my son in military uniform.
What do readers think?
Oh and on the Amazon link for the English translation, "Tarantula", notice the price? I wonder why?