Saturday, October 08, 2016

Two Movies and a TV Show Produced from Books, Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley and The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

I've read the books that these two movies are based on, (and 7 of the Lemony Snicket series) so I am thrilled to see that some good things are coming on the big and small screens. The Alchemist was written a long time ago, and I read it awhile back, but it stays in my memory as being an excellent novel. The Professor and the Madman was also pretty good, but I think it will translate even better to the movie screen.

Movies: The Alchemist; The Professor and the Madman 

Sony's TriStar Pictures "has stepped up to make a worldwide rights deal
to turn the Paulo Coelho novel The Alchemist
into a feature film," Deadline reported, noting that the book "has been
guided creatively for years by Cinema Gypsy's Laurence Fishburne, who
will take it the rest of the way in partnership with fellow producer,
PalmStar Media's Kevin Frakes, and TriStar president Hannah Minghella."

"I'm thrilled to be moving this project forward after all these years,"
Fishburne said.

"The Alchemist changed my life when I first read it almost 20 years
ago," Frakes added. "It helped give me the courage to take chances and
the confidence to chase my dream. In my first conversation with Hanna
about The Alchemist, I realized she understood the impact this novel has
and I knew I wanted to make this film with TriStar. I could not be more
excited that we are starting the journey together."

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd will join Mel Gibson and Sean Penn in The

Professor and the Madman
based on Simon Winchester's bestselling novel The Professor and the
Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English
Dictionary. Deadline reported that this is "a passion project for
Gibson, who's been working to adapt the book for nearly two decades."
Farhad Safinia is directing a script he wrote with John Boorman (Hope
and Glory) and Todd Komarnicki (Sully).

TV: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
 A teaser clip has been released for Netflix's upcoming adaptation of
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
that is "so unnerving that it's caused jolly cut-up Patrick Warburton to
become super-serious," Yahoo News wrote. "In this new clip teasing the
eight-episode series, which premieres on January 13, 2017, the former
Tick steps assumes the role of the narrator for these Unfortunate
Events, Lemony Snicket, who chronicled the sad case of the Baudelaire
orphans over the course of 13 books.... In the middle of his stone-faced
soliloquy, the actor is interrupted from off-screen by a maniacally
happy singer who sounds an awful lot like Neil Patrick Harris, who plays
the orphans' sinister guardian and constant nemesis, Count Olaf."

Bilgewater by Jane  Gardam is the second book of hers I've read, and, while the Man With the Wooden Hat was obscure and odd, I was expecting this novel to be more relatable, because it was about a young woman who is a bibliophile, and something of an outcast because she believes herself to be ugly. Unfortunately, this protagonist doesn't actually confer warmth or understanding on the reader, and instead seems to be just plain weird and creepy. Here's the blurb:
Originally published in 1977, Jane Gardam's Bilgewater is an affectionate and complex rendering-in-miniature of the discomforts of growing up and first love seen through the eyes of inimitable Marigold Green, an awkward, eccentric, highly intelligent girl. The Evening Standard described Bilgewater as "one of the funniest, most entertaining, most unusual stories about young love."
Motherless and 16, Marigold is the headmaster's daughter at a private backwater all-boys school. To make matters worse, Marigold pines for head boy Jack Rose, reckons with the beautiful and domineering Grace, and yanks herself headlong out of her interior world and into the seething cauldron of adolescence. With everything happening all at once, Marigold faces the greatest of teenage crucibles. 
A smart and painterly romp in the rich tradition of The Hollow Land and A Long Way From Verona, Gardam's elegant, evocative prose, possessed of sharp irony and easy surrealism makes Bilgewater a book for readers of all ages.
Marigold is never actually called Marigold, instead she gets a nickname, which appears to be a thing in British schools, where no one goes by their actual names. I found little to like in any of the main characters, with Jack Rose being a complete jerk who runs away with his girlfriend's mother (how bizarre and unsavory) and her supposed friend Grace runs away with her new-found love, Terrapin,who supposedly had a crush on her for years. Things tend to happen to Bilgewater, instead of her acting and doing something for herself. I found very little humor in all of the "seething cauldron of adolescence" taking place in the book. I found instead a lot of navel-gazing and shallowness, along with a great deal of awkward decisions made by the protagonists, leading to unsatisfactory conclusions for them all. Tense and sexist and uncomfortable are the only words I can think to describe the prose. I wanted to like this book, but I was, in the end, just bored with it. A novel worthy of a C at best, and I'd only recommend it to those who don't mind overly "talky" books that have plots that seem to go nowhere.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley is the 8th of his Flavia de Luce mystery novels, all of which I've bought and devoured the moment they were available.  Bradley's prose is sterling, and his plots move with the swiftness of Gladys the bicycle being ridden at speed (or "given her head" as Flavia says in the book) by Flavia during her pursuit of justice.Here's the blurbs: 
In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core. 
Publisher's Weekly:
Bestseller Bradley’s lively eighth Flavia de Luce novel (after 2015’s As Chimney Sweeps Come to Dust) finds the pre-adolescent chemist and detective back at Buckshaw, her crumbling family estate in England, after being dishonorably discharged from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada. Her beloved father’s sickness taints homecoming, leaving moody Flavia to ward off a flock of pesky sisters. Welcome distraction comes when Flavia stumbles on the body of a local wood-carver strapped upside-down to a wooden contraption, flanked by a stack of children’s books by famed nonsense-versifier Oliver Inchbald. Flavia, who’s delighted to investigate under the eye of her old friend Inspector Hewitt, uncovers a backstory to the murder involving a man devoured by seagulls and a madcap Auntie Loo who dies scuba diving. Only the somewhat arbitrary final reveal disappoints. Child detectives can irritate, but Flavia’s a winner, a mix of sparky irreverence and wrathful propriety who evades the preciousness endemic to the species.
The thing I love about Flavia is that she's unsentimental and she's very smart and persistent. Though her father is ill with pneumonia, no one will allow her to see him while he's in the hospital, but Flavia uses this time to investigate the mystery of how the woodcarver who is actually an incognito children's book author, died on a wooden rack on his bedroom door (They never seem to explain why he was in the wooden rack to begin with). That the insane Carla, who couldn't abide anyone critical of her singing, was the culprit, seemed just a bit too tidy. The ending of the book, in which a bomb is dropped, was much worse, though, and I expect that the next book, which will see Flavia into her teens, finally, will have to address all the changes to Buckshaw. Though I still don't like how awful and cruel her sisters are to Flavia, I am hopeful that, as each approaches relationships with men that will determine their future, they will relent and realize that their little sister is the future of Buckshaw, their family seat. A well deserved A for this page-turner, with the recommendation to anyone who likes cozy English mysteries with a female sleuth.
The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood was a novel that I paid full price for, on the strength of the stellar reviews that it has received, and because it was supposedly about readers and a book group, and being both, I thought I would relate to the characters therein. I was wrong, and it makes me ache to say so. I was so disappointed in this novel that I wanted to cry. Everything was done in an obvious, cliched way. In the words of reviewer Helen McAlpin: "Even before the pat, schmaltzy ending, everything is spelled out. The group's literary discussions are often painful to read — stilted, simplistic, and didactic. Typical is the cancer patient's defense of her choice of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: "The novel shows us that strong values help us triumph over adversity." As I write this, there's a part of me that asks how I, who love books and reading so much, can beef about a novel that makes a case for how much books matter. The answer is that I wish Hood had made a less cloying case."
This is exactly it. The chapters were supposed to go from Ava, the main character, to Maggie, her disgustingly stupid, junkie daughter, but instead Hood throws in other background characters randomly, so that their short POV makes you disoriented, wondering why this character is important enough to warrant a chapter of their own thoughts and feelings. I had trouble getting past Maggie's idiocy and inability to know her own mind enough (or have enough self preservation) to get away from an older French lover who was enslaving her to heroin so that he could use her for sex, abuse her physically, and control her life. Though she sees friends dying of drug overdoses, she continues a downward spiral of lies (to herself and her mother) and drug abuse that leaves her near death twice! Her mother, because her husband of many years is leaving her for some flaky younger yarn-bomber, seems to have lost all her brain cells as well, and doesn't question the fact that her daughter only sends her stock photos from Italy and doesn't check in regularly, though she's been known to have drug problems in the past. What kind of dim bulb just lets their druggie daughter go off to Italy without supervision, but with enough money to buy drugs?  Ava's mother had left her after Ava's sister Lily fell out of a tree and died, leaving Ava with a guilt-riddled childhood and a book that it was obvious that her mother wrote, though Ava doesn't connect the dots until the end of the novel (again, I wondered how anyone could be so clueless.) 
Here's the brief blurb: Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.
There's nothing even remotely subtle or satisfying about this book. The book group seems like a classroom of disaffected dolts, one of whom Ava sleeps with, though he's much younger than she is, and she thinks of him with a kind of contempt because he is a bit too hipster for her tastes. But everyone in the book group falls into a stereotype or archetype, and while we're supposed to have sympathy for each of them in some way, I found that they weren't well drawn enough for me to come to like them or enjoy them as fully realized beings. The inherent sexism of the female protagonists not being able to navigate life successfully without a man to depend on also rankled. Because of course, women are incomplete without men, right? Ugh. So wrong. So very, very wrong. I wish that I were able to get a refund for this waste of a tree, but unfortunately, my husband bought it for me on Amazon. So I am stuck with it. I really didn't like Ava, who couldn't get her sh*t together and who has a deep need for a man to take care of her, as well as for the book group to "accept" her, when she only seems to have negative thoughts about nearly all of the people in the group. She's a sour, stupid, shallow person who doesn't even bother to read the first two books for the group she's been so anxious to join, instead, she watches the movies, something a real bibliophile would find horrifying. More pathetic than uplifting, I'd have to give this book a C, and only recommend it to those who like easy books with obvious answers and stock characters.

No comments: