21 July, 2015

Adaptations Better than Books?

Whenever a book is adapted into a play/film/TV programme, there are always people who loved the book and hate the adaptation. It's rare that an adaptation receives even close to universal praise (the recent film of Gone Girl being an exception). It must however, be much less usual for somebody to love an adaptation and dislike the original book(s). This happened to me recently, has it happened to you?

I love listening to cosy crime on the radio. Poirot, Marple, Peter Wimsey... they are my friends. Even the Paul Temple stories which are terribly-written and badly-acted will do when I need something to listen to. I've particularly enjoyed Agatha Raisin stories in recent years, and so I thought I'd read one of the books by MC Beaton - Something Borrowed Someone Dead. It was dreadful.

In cosy crime I can deal with a ludicrous plot and I still enjoyed the bizarre character of Agatha Raisin herself, but the writing was truly bad. I was amazed and disappointed - MC Beaton is a best-selling author. The book mostly consisted of very short scenes each containing a single conversation, over half of which were pointless. The dialogue was unrealistic and often stilted, the prose repetitive and the storyline managed to be both drawn out (through the pointless scenes) and rushed (through the constant scene changes). It wasn't completely unenjoyable, just unbelievably badly-written.

If you look for reviews online, you will see I am in a minority. Something Borrowed Someone Dead averages over 4* on Amazon. However, I was interested to see from the 1* and 2* reviews that many people were disappointed for the same reasons I was AND that most of the unhappy reviewers were long-time readers of Agatha Raisin who thought this particular book was nothing like all the previous ones and nowhere near the standard they usually are. A couple of reviewers said they were afraid first-time Agatha readers would be put off. They were right. I shan't be reading MC Beaton again, but I will return to the radio version I'm sure.

What are the best and worst adaptations you've come across? Ever preferred an adaptation to the original books?

9 comments:

  1. I enjoyed the adaptations of Nick Hornby's novels About a Boy (minus the cringey Hugh Grant guitar solo) and High Fidelity (forgiving the relocation to the US). Each film managed to capture the soul of the book and breathe depth into it as well.

    Incidentally, there's a radio production of Diamonds Are Forever on R4 on Saturday!

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    1. Is now a good time to admit I've never experienced James Bond in any form - TV, film, book or radio?!

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    2. Chloe, I've yet to read any Dickens so I'm in no position to judge. (Although David Lean's version of Great Expectations is one of my favourite films.)

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  2. Funnily enough I saw the Agatha Raisin thing on TV quite a few months ago and enjoyed it enough to make myself a note to try a book. But I just got a sense from the few, but insightful and well-argued negative reviews (together with a quick look at the 'Look inside thing on Amazon) and decided that I wouldn't like them.

    I have a personal experience of disappointing adaptation. I was so thrilled to learn my Gadabout books were going to be on CITV - but they changed EVERYTHING! They left out most of my characters except Sir Gadabout - but even he wasn't good enough because he was an adult protagonist in a children's programme, so they invented to new, young male and female leads and relegated poor old Gadabout to the background. It meant my publishers couldn't even capitalise on the TV series regarding new book covers etc because they bore such little resemblance to the stories I was writing.

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    1. That's sounds a fascinating journey of highs and lows. I'm guessing the author has no say and it's down to the agent / publisher to negotiate on matters of content and direction?

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    2. I saw Agatha Raisin on TV and didn't like it as much as the radio version but it was better than the book!

      I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to see your work taken on but then completely rearranged and made something it isn't. I hope I never find out!

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  3. I remember being oddly disappointed when I read the Elmore Leonard's "Out of Sight" after seeing the film version. They'd changed so little from the original text it was like watching the film all over again. I suspect if I'd read the book first I'd have been delighted at how faithful an adaptation it was.

    Jurassic Park and A Scanner Darkly inspired some pretty good movie versions, although I wouldn't say either of them actually surpassed their source material.

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    1. It seems from what people are saying here and on Facebook, that whchever version you experience first, the others tend to be the disappointing ones. I guess it's about expectations.

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    2. I think that makes sense. Generally, if I see a bad film version of something, I'll have no interest in the book, no matter how good anybody says it is. I might be a bit more forgiving the other way around - if the basic concept of the book appealed enough for me to read it, but I found it slow going or dull, I might be tempted to see what the film is like because books are usually cut to the quick during the adaptation process.

      But yes, usually, it comes down to whichever one I see / read first being my preferred version.

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