The Personal History of David Copperfield: From Book to Film

In a previous post I reviewed The Goldfinch, one of two literary adaptations on my list to watch while I was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. The Personal History of David Copperfield is the other one, which also had its world premiere at TIFF; it represents a totally different approach to bringing a literary work to the big screen.

If The Goldfinch is an example of a traditional way of adaptation, striving at loyalty to the literary source while overlooking cinematic elements, David Copperfield is a brave venture out wielding post-modern strokes, not that it is changed into a contemporary setting, but that it is adapted with a modern-day zeitgeist. Here’s director Armando Iannucci’s rationale during a TIFF interview: Just as Dickens wrote David Copperfield reflecting life and society of his time, as a filmmaker today, he directs the adaptation through a frame of our time. 

David Copperfield
Dev Patel as David Copperfield. Image Credit: Courtesy of TIFF19

What stands out in such post-modern filmmaking is the ‘colour-blind casting’ of the production. David Copperfield is played by Dev Patel, a young British actor of Indian descent. Known for his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Patel has established a popular screen presence with a charisma that whisked him through many subsequent successful features such as the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011, 2015) and Lion (2016). Other non-white actors taking up main roles include Benedict Wong (Avengers: Endgame, 2019) as Mr. Wickfield, Rosalind Eleazar (Howards End, 2017) as Agnes and Nikki Amuka-Bird (The Children Act, 2017) as Mrs. Steerforth. It is a bold statement Iannucci is making: skin colour is not an issue. These talents are first and foremost, actors.

Iannucci indicated that he’d always have Patel in mind ever since he watched Lion (2016), a true story about an Indian boy separated from his older brother in a Calcutta train station and later sent away for adoption in Australia. Twenty-five years later, after a long search, he finally located and reunited with his mother in an Indian village. Watching Patel in Lion, Iannucci thought, that’s David Copperfield for him. Indeed, Dickens’s character David Copperfield could well be a metaphor for those who had suffered much in childhood and yet against all odds, have survived and grown up to be resilient and compassionate human beings.

The adaptation exudes energy and humour. Iannucci has chosen his cinematic palette with bright colours and sprinkled with comedic sparks. Surely, Dickens’s Copperfield has a sad upbringing, orphaned after his beloved mother dies young, and mistreated by his stepfather Mr. Murdstone and his sister Jane Murdstone, later having had to fend for himself as a child labourer at the ripe age of 12. Yet Dickens’s humour never fades. His light-hearted depiction of Aunt Betsey Trotwood or Mr. Micawber offer some hilarious characterization. Later, David’s brave and arduous escape to seek the shelter of Aunt Betsey turns his life around. The autobiographical fiction could well represent Dickens’s view that, in the midst of misfortunes and human pathos, there still lies a deeper essence, and that’s the joy of life. Iannucci deftly capitalizes this inherent quality in the the author’s writing and adorns his film with humour and jollity.

Here’s a note on Wikipedia on Armando Iannucci that I find interesting: “Born in Glasgow to Italian parents, Iannucci studied at the University of Glasgow followed by the University of Oxford, leaving graduate work on a D.Phil about John Milton to pursue a career in comedy.” I’m sure the story about his academic pursuit and career change entail more than just this one line can say, but that’s enough to give us the background of who’s bringing David Copperfield to the screen now. Iannucci is the creator and writer of the award-winning TV series Veep (2012-2019), the Oscar nominated political satire In the Loop (2009), and the dark comedy The Death of Stalin (2017), for which he won Best Director and Best Writer at BAFTA.

To those wary about the lack of seriousness, the superb cast is poised to deflect such criticisms. Tilda Swinton (Oscar winner Michael Clayton, 2007) as Betsey Trotwood and Hugh Laurie (Golden Globe Best Actor The Night Manager, House) as Mr. Dick are the anchors that complement Patel’s spirited performance. They are pivotal in transferring Dickens’s moral insights onto screen. Aunt Betsey’s kindness towards Mr. Dick, who in today’s term would be one stricken with mental illness, is a lesson in example, influencing David’s mutual friendship with him. The same with David’s support and acceptance of Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family while they are in dire financial distress. If we need a villain, Ben Whishaw’s Uriah Heep is there to show vividly the face of hypocrisy and the consequence of jealousy and deceit.

Such a light handling of the classic novel has its weakness naturally. While the moral lesson of good over evil still stands, David’s growing insights about love, life, and faith which Dickens writes about so eloquently have not been transferred onto screen as successfully. It is unfortunate that the movie does not elaborate on the effects of David’s misplaced adulations of Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard, The Goldfinch, 2019) nor does it focus on his awakening to the fervency Agnes has for him. David’s blindspot and Agnes’s hidden love for him would have made a poignant storyline. Nevertheless, the two eventually do come together, but just as a coda, with Dora (Morfydd Clark, Love & Friendship, 2016) getting the inkling of a mismatch between herself and the emerging writer to gracefully step aside, sparing David the deathbed scene from the book.

Overall, the adaptation is a joy to watch, and one of those films that I’d like to rewatch. It has just been screened at London Film Festival in early October, release dates in North America unknown. The casting might pose an issue for some, but it just may be another object lesson for today.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

The Goldfinch

Lion

Love & Friendship

 

‘Burning’: From Short Story to Big Screen

Burning is based on the short story “Barn Burning” by the popular Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, the translated English version first published in the November issue of The New Yorker in 1992. Acclaimed Korean director Lee Chang-dong has fleshed out the minimalist narrative of Murakami’s story and created an extended ending, turning Burning from mere rumination into a dramatic suspense thriller, shedding traces of a myriad of literary allusions. That is the appeal of the works by the Korean novelist-turned-filmmaker.

Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and a nominee for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Burning had its North American premiere on September 9 at the Toronto International Film Festival. As well, South Korea has announced that Burning will be its official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film race at the 91st Oscars in 2019. The acclaimed film will be released in November in selective cities.

More than fifty years before Murakami’s short piece appeared in The New Yorker, back in 1939, a short story of the same name, “Barn Burning”, was published in Harper’s Magazine. Its author was William Faulkner. It was a dramatic story of class discrepancy in the American South, the chasm between the rich and the poor and the hateful revenge of a tenant farmer burning down the properties of his land owner. Interesting to note that Murakami made no mention of Faulkner in his story, which can be seen as a modern-day version of the American author’s work.

Director Lee’s adaptation shares similar meaning-imbued elements as his last feature Poetry from eight years ago. While his previous work is a character study of a grandmother trying to seek out a way to renew her life, in Burning, Lee focuses on the young, specifically, the millennials, and contrasting the social chasm between the rich and the poor with two characters.

burning_01
Yoo Ah-in as Jongsu in ‘Burning’. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) graduated from university majoring in creative writing. At present he is doing menial jobs as a living while trying to write a novel. On a delivery one day he comes across an old schoolmate, Haemi—impressive performance by newcomer Jun Jong-seo—working as a raffle promoter on the street. She recognizes Jongsu as according to her, they used to live in the same community when they were children. That brief encounter sparks off a precarious relationship between the two.

Due to some legal entanglement of his father’s, Jongsu has to leave the city to return to his father’s impoverished farm to look after it. He sleeps in a run-down shack, drives a rusty truck and clears the waste of the only cow left. At the same time, Haemi is going on a trip to Africa, and has asked Jongsu to go to her small apartment to feed her cat while she is away. This he gladly obliges.

But when Haemi returns after some time, she brings with her another man, Ben (Steven Yeun of the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’), a third person to the intimate relationship Jongsu had wanted to establish with Haemi.  Ben is more than just a disruptor but an enigma. He lives in a high-end apartment, dresses stylishly, drives a Porsche and exudes sophisticated tastes. He does not hold a job nor seem to mind Jongsu’s presence, but invites him home and brings him into his circle of friends. “The Gatsby in Korea” as Jongsu figures him, Ben is a man with a mysterious past and unsearchable intention.

burning_steven-yeun_1 (1).jpg
Steven Yeun as Ben, ‘The Gatsby in Korea’.

Things become more intriguing and uncomfortable when one night, Ben confides in Jongsu that he burns greenhouses for his own pleasure. He would scout out his target and set fire to it while watching from afar. The next one he has in mind actually is quite close to where Jongsu is staying, near his father’s farm. Here we see Murakami’s interesting flip of Faulkner’s story. Instead of a hateful man from a lower economic class driven by jealousy and bitterness to commit arson, we have the resourceful rich burning down greenhouses, but for what reason?

Unlike Murakami, Lee alludes to Faulkner, but also takes up Murakami’s suggestion that it is not only poverty or revenge that drives one to commit incendiary acts, but ennui, self-indulgence, or mere emptiness can also prod one towards inexplicable behaviour.

Steven Yeun, the Korean-American actor known for the TV series “The Walking Dead”, takes up his first major role in a Korean film. Yeun’s portrayal of an amoral, metrosexual may well be a modern-day parallel of Camus’s L’Etranger, The Stranger.  His often expressionless, but not unpleasant, face could well have conveyed the inner psyche of a rootless and purposeless existence.

One time at a social gathering, Haemi imitates the African ‘hunger dance’ in front of Ben and his friends. First, she acts with small, silent gestures showing the ‘little hunger’ of the literal, physical pang then changing to the ‘great hunger’ with her arms reaching upward and swaying to signify the empty soul reaching out in search of fulfilment. Watching her, Ben’s response is a yawn and a slight smile. Then a quick cut to a loud, electrifying night club scene with Haemi dancing wildly in a smoky, hazy atmosphere. Lee’s cinematic storytelling is stark and to the point.

The director’s rendering of passion and the human psyche is enhanced by Hong Kyung-pyo’s mesmerizing cinematography and the engaging score by Mowg and other incidental music, presenting sequences that are at times dreamlike, and at times, sadly realistic. In a stirring scene, Haemi dances again, this time against the setting sun out in Jongsu’s farm, her silhouette captivating her audience of two subtle rivals, one genuine, the other, unsearchable.

The plot thickens towards the last section when Jongsu tries to connect with Haemi after some time but finds her missing. Her apartment has been vacated, her phone disconnected. The next time he sees Ben, Ben is with another woman and admitted no knowledge of Haemi’s whereabouts. The disappearance of Haemi ignites Jongsu’s suspicion and drives the tension towards an explosive denouement which Lee adds to Murakami’s short story. It is an ending that is a surprise and yet also natural in context. Lee brilliantly brings his viewers full circle back to Faulkner with his layered storytelling.

Just like his previous works Poetry (2010) and Secret Sunshine (2007), Lee has shown once again that he is not only a masterful director but an astute observer of human psyche and behaviour.

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~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Note: My review above was originally published in Asian American Press on Sept. 12, 2018. I thank AAPress for permission to repost here.

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Update Nov. 16: “Burning” just nominated for Best International Film (South Korea) at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

Summer Reads before the Coming Movies

What to read next? I’m sure that’s not a question in many readers’ mind as their TBR pile is high. But if you love to read the books before watching the movie adaptations, or looking for summer reads, here are some titles that might pique your interest.

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Fun to listen to, love that voice in the audiobook. But if you’re a print aficionado, this  would make one breezy summer read and a movie to look forward to this fall. Cate Blanchett is Bernadett Fox, with Kristen Wiig and Judy Greer. Directed by Richard Linklater, who gave us the ‘Before…’ trilogy, Boyhood, and many other wonderful films.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 

Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulker Award. A world-renown opera singer is trapped in a hostage crisis and the subsequent events. Based on a true incident in the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru in 1996-1997. A movie adaptation has been brewing for some years and finally it’s made. Julianne Moore plays the lead role. Directed by Paul Weitz (About A Boy)

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan’s Crazy trilogy is highly readable. Don’t get turned off by the titles like I was at first. They’re no-holds-barred satires that are bound to be eye-openers to many readers. A modern day, Asian version of Lizzy meeting Mr. Darcy. Movie adaptation coming out later this summer and will be a testing ground for audience world-wide with its all Asian cast and director. “Fresh Off the Boat” TV series star Constance Wu plays NYU prof Rachel Chu, Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger), Ken Jeong (Dr. Ken) are in. Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) directs.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Among the multiple awards Canadian writer Patrick DeWitt won with his 2012 novel was the Stephen Leacock Medal, which means it’s very humorous. A story about the brothers who share the last name Sisters. If you’re into dark but comedic Westerns, here’s your pick. A-listers Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reily star. Acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone) helms. Story takes place in Oregon and California during the 1850’s. Shot in Romania and Spain. That’s movie making today.

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Other interesting titles just announced or in development:

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Entitled The Personal History of David Copperfield which I believe was the original Dickens title, is now being adapted once again into a contemporary version. Exciting to see old classics not only survive but getting creative remakes for modern-day appeal. This may not sit well with purists, but hey, our world is changing and spinning crazily every minute, so might as well enjoy the ride. This one stars Dev Patel as David Copperfield. You remember that’s the promising young man from Slumdog Millionaire, and after that, some worthy titles. He’s come a long way. An apt choice, I’d say. Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Laurie all in.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Benedict Cumberbatch acquired the film rights of Haig’s newest novel even before it’s published. So must be good. Cumberbatch will star as the 41 year-old man who actually has been living for centuries. Must contain some secrets of staying young, or maybe just a condition that you wouldn’t want. British novelist and journalist Haig’s books have been translated into 30 languages world-wide.

“The Judge’s Will” by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s last short story will be adapted into film to be directed by Alexander Payne. The ideal screenwriter for this one? James Ivory of course. Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the literary-to-film triangle, my all time faves. You can read the story right here at The New Yorker online.

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And here are some literary titles remade for TV series or movie on the small screen now or coming up:

King Lear by William Shakespeare

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Howards End by E. M. Forster 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

 

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Middlemarch Book II – IV: Inkblot Test

We’ve come to the midpoint of our tentative reading plan. Hard to believe one month’s gone by already. Instead of a review of all the chapters, how about a Middlemarch inkblot test?

What word comes to your mind when you see the following:

 

  • Dorothea 
  • Casaubon 
  • Ladislaw 
  • Fred 
  • Rosamond 
  • Lydgate 
  • Celia 
  • Mr. Brooke 
  • Mary Garth

 

I’ll just stop with these ones. Have your views about these characters changed from first you met them?

Any surprises in the storylines?

Which characters do you click ‘Like’?

What to do with the ones we don’t? Is Eliot having fun with Austen’s idea of creating characters whom no one would much like?

Favorite Quotes?

Here are some of mine, for various reasons, but mostly for Eliot’s power of association in her descriptions.

Will Ladislaw’s thought about Dorothea:

“To ask her to be less simple and direct would be like breathing on the crystal that you want to see the light through.”

About Dorothea’s predicament:

“I suppose it was that in courtship everything is regarded as provisional and preliminary, and the smallest sample of virtue or accomplishment is taken to guarantee delightful stores which the broad leisure of marriage will reveal. But the door-sill of marriage once crossed, expectation is concentrated on the present. Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight –– that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.”

And if Eliot were among us today, she would likely be vocal in the #Metoo and #Timesup movements:

“Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy.”

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Your two pebbles?

Wood Duck.jpg

 

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Other posts from our Read-Along participants:

Men of Middlemarch

Middlemarch –– Ladislaw’s Force of Unreason

Middlemarch by George Eliot –– Completed today

 

Middlemarch Book I: What are siblings for?

Dorothea and Celia Brooke remind me of the Dashwood sisters Elinor and MariAnne. Like MaryAnne, Celia, being the younger, holds much respect and love for her older sister. Unlike the sisters in Austen’s novel however, here in Middlemarch so far, I just wonder who is Sense and who is Sensibility.

What are siblings for if not to act as a sounding board to test one’s opinion? This is a scene fit for a prime time TV comedy. Celia, just learned that Mr. Casaubon is the only guest coming to dinner––the setup to that special dinner she is totally oblivious––thus allowing her to speak her mind freely to Dorothea:

_______

“I hope there is some one else. Then I shall not hear him eat his soup so.”
“What is there remarkable about his soup-eating?”
“Really, Dodo, can’t you hear how he scrapes his spoon? And he always blinks before he speaks. I don’t know whether Locke blinked, but I’m sure I am sorry for those who sat opposite to him if he did.”
“Celia,” said Dorothea, with emphatic gravity, “pray don’t make any more observations of that kind.”
“Why not? They are quite true,” returned Celia, who had her reasons for persevering, though she was beginning to be a little afraid.
“Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe.”
“Then I think the commonest minds must be rather useful. I think it is a pity Mr. Casaubon’s mother had not a commoner mind: she might have taught him better.” Celia was inwardly frightened, and ready to run away, now she had hurled this light javelin.

_______

What follows of course is the bombshell that shatters the sounding board for any sense or sensibility.

Sibling Waxwings
I’ll just throw in this pair of Waxwings, they look like they’re siblings.

 

Another pair of siblings that makes a lively scene is Fred Vincy and his sister Rosamund. Talking about using the word “superior” to denote certain young men, Fred says:

_______

“Oh, there are so many superior teas and sugars now. Superior is getting to be shopkeepers’ slang.”
“Are you beginning to dislike slang, then?” said Rosamond, with mild gravity.
“Only the wrong sort. All choice of words is slang. It marks a class.”
“There is correct English: that is not slang.”
“I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.”
“You will say anything, Fred, to gain your point.”
“Well, tell me whether it is slang or poetry to call an ox a leg-plaiter.”
“Of course you can call it poetry if you like.”
“Aha, Miss Rosy, you don’t know Homer from slang. I shall invent a new game; I shall write bits of slang and poetry on slips, and give them to you to separate.”
“Dear me, how amusing it is to hear young people talk!” said Mrs. Vincy, with cheerful admiration.

_______

What are siblings for if not to act as target of javelin or indulgence for a doting mother.

How’s your reading coming along?

________

Some Middlemarch posts from our Read-Along participants:

Dolce Bellezza

Gladsome Lights 

 

Middlemarch in May: Let the Fun Begin!

A few quotes to set the stage for our Read-Along of Middlemarch by George Eliot.

BBC History Website:

“She used a male pen name to ensure her works were taken seriously in an era when female authors were usually associated with romantic novels.”

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From “George Eliot: A Celebration” by A. S. Byatt, as introduction to Modern Library’s edition of Middlemarch:

“She had no real heir as “novelist of ideas” in England… Her heirs are abroad—Proust in France, Mann in Germany. Which brings me to another reason for loving her: she was European, not little-English, her roots were Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Balzac, not just, as Leavis’s “Great Tradition” implies, Jane Austen. She opened gates which are still open.”

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From “Why Read George Eliot”, by Paula Marantz Cohen in American Scholar, Spring 2006:

“Eliot’s voice, in its assumption of a wiser, juster, more all-encompassing perspective, is the ligament of her novels. It elevates them from ingenious storytelling to divine comedy…

As Virginia Woolf observed, Eliot wrote novels for grown-up people. Our society and our relationships would be saner and better if more grownups read her.”

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Last but not least, let’s kick off Middlemarch in May with Henry James’s lively reflections on George Eliot, as quoted in Colm Tóibín’s article “Creating The Portrait of a Lady in The New York Review of Books, July 19, 2007 Issue:

“A specter haunted Henry James: it was the specter of George Eliot. He visited her first in 1869, when he was twenty-six, and wrote to his father:

‘I was immensely impressed, interested and pleased. To begin with, she is magnificently ugly—deliciously hideous…. Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end up as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes behold me literally in love with this great horse-faced blue-stocking.’

Three years later, when Middlemarch appeared, James wrote from Rome to his friend Grace Norton:

A marvellous mind throbs in every page of Middlemarch. It raises the standard of what is to be expected of women—(by your leave!) We know all about the female heart; but apparently there is a female brain, too…. To produce some little exemplary works of art is my narrow and lowly dream. They are to have less “brain” than Middlemarch; but (I boldly proclaim it) they are to have more form.”

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Let the fun begin!

 

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Other posts from Read-Along participants:

Middlemarch Has Me Laughing So Soon by Gretchen at Gladsome Lights

 

My invite post:

Middlemarch in May Read-Along

My Middlemarch Review Posts:

Middlemarch Book I: What are siblings for?

Middlemarch Book II to IV: Inkblot Test

Middlemarch Wrap: You be the screenwriter

 

 

‘Middlemarch in May’ Read-Along

In 2015, BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari surveyed 82 book critics around the world outside UK, “from Australia to Zimbabwe”, and asked them to rate the greatest English novels of all time. Guess which book came up on top of the list? Guess right. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Why outside the UK?  To find out “What does the rest of the world see as the greatest British novels… for a collective critical assessment… a global perspective”.

For her 19th C. classic to appeal to critics today, George Eliot must have done something right. I must discover the mystery. Interesting that I’d read Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch a few years ago and enjoyed it even without reading the eponymous work. But I’ve been saying to myself, I need to put an end to this cultural deprivation. You’ll never know, there just might be a new movie adaptation brewing somewhere with a postmodern streak. I have to read the original first.

My personal plan is to read the hard copy and listen to the audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson whichever and whenever I like during the process. Read at home, listen while driving or doing something else. That usually works best for me. Feel free to use whatever reading format you prefer.

MiddlemarchMiddlemarch Audiobook

As the lovely month of May is approaching, you’re welcome to join me and Bellezza and others here and here to read Middlemarch. We will take it leisurely. While we start in May, I’ll leave the ending date tentatively at the end of June. But if by ‘leisurely’ it means July or even further, I’m totally fine with it. (Bellezza would know how flexible I am with our previous read-along) I always find reading with a deadline more a pressure than pleasure.

You might have read it before, so here’s a chance to dust off your copy from the shelf, as we read or reread together and connect online, no matter where you are, from Australia to Zimbabwe. You may like to share via a blog post, leave a comment, or send a tweet. How’s this for a hashtag: #MiddlemarchinMay on Twitter.

 

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Books to read in pairs

Often I find some books are better read together, back to back. They have similar settings or subject matter, and it’s always interesting to see the different perspectives and connections, intentional or not. A testimony to the six degree of separation.

Here are a few. Can you name some more from your reading experience?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

Pachinko is a family saga set in a period of history that’s seldom told in North America, the first part of the 20th century in Korea and Japan. Annexation of Korea is to put it mildly, prelude to the Pacific War later when the Japanese army invaded her neighbouring countries during WWII. The sufferings of those in the frontline and those at home are vividly depicted in Sakamoto’s family memoir: his maternal grandfather as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong and later shipped to Japan as slave laborer, while his paternal grandmother and her family mistreated in internment right in their homeland of Canada. (detailed reviews coming up)

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Do not say we have nothing by Madeleine Thien and The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Barne’s biographical vignettes of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich during Stalin’s reign is like a compendium to Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which depicts the three choices one can make when confronting a ruthless, totalitarian Ruler. Thien’s fictional characters struggled to survive during Mao’s cultural revolution and the subsequent years. Speak truth to power, unfortunately, is not a viable alternative. Death and oblivion will be the certain and swift consequences.

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Nutshell by Ian McEwan and Hamlet by William Shakespeare

McEwan’s modern day, in utero version of the Bard’s incestuous mayhem. Very perceptive, considering its from the voice of a baby in the womb.

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, and Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

Don’t think of the accented Meryl Streep in the movie Out of Africa, just imagine the ‘real’ Karen Blixen, on her farm in Africa, a tough woman on her own most of the time, and then there’s an acquaintance (can’t say friend) Beryl Markham, a female aviator, equally pioneering, a Brit expat in Africa, doing more than the discovery of the land but also of the man in Karen’s life, no, not Robert Redford.

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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham

One day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway can have so much meaning under the pen of Virginia Woolf. The Hours are equally perceptive, internal depiction of three women in different periods of time. And throw in The Hours the movie after, an excellent adaptation and hauntingly worthy of Woolf’s literary style.

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The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Mrs. Osmond by John Banville, and Middlemarch by George Eliot. 

Mrs. Osmond is Banville’s imaginary sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. Seems it all point to bad choices when the protagonist naive and a little too idealistic. I’m exploring how George Eliot’s Middlemarch may be a precursor to these novels of the young and restless and marital mismatch.

And here’s an invite, Middlemarch in May (makes a nice hashtag) is a read-along I’ll be joining with Bellezza and other readers. It starts in May, and it’s our intention to finish before summer, hopefully. Feel free to join us and explore the Dorothea Brooke connection to Isabel Archer, and I’m sure other delights as well along the way.

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The Portrait of a Lady, Sequel, Remake(?)

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

First, thanks to Bellezza’s open invite to a read-along, posting the photo of John Banville’s newest book Mrs. Osmond, a sequel to The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I’d seen the 1996 movie adaptation directed by Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), but had never read James’s novel. What better time to read both books than now.

The Portrait of a Lady

I got hold of The Portrait of a Lady (Modern Library, just love the cover) read part of it then turned to a sound recording (unfortunately couldn’t find the Juliet Stevenson narrated version). Prompted by JoAnn, I interspersed reading with listening and gleaned much pleasure doing that. Here’s my very short, 5-Star Goodreads review:

“Actually I was listening to the Blackstone Audio version of the book as well as reading  parts of the book to ascertain facts in the story or just savour the passages again. James’s portrait of Isabel Archer is one of the saddest fictional heroines I’ve come across. A reminiscence of Anna Karenina emerged as I read the latter part, but Isabel is a character much more likeable for me. Should she be destined to a ruined life due to a naive misjudgement, ok, maybe even foolishness, by marrying Gilbert Osmond? Osmond is evil personified, and I just can’t shake off the face of John Malkovich (from the movie) whenever I read about his cold, domineering hand over Isabel. Isabel definitely needs redemption and saving grace. So I do hope John Banville’s Mrs. Osmond will grant her that.”

The Portrait of a Lady by Jane Campion

Since the image of John Malkovich kept creeping up my mind as I read the book, I quickly turned to the movie adaptation right after I finished the book. I remember I was most disturbed by Osmond’s callous treatment of Isabel when I first watched it years ago; he appeared as a chilling, silent villain, bullying his innocent victim mercilessly. His stepping on Isabel’s floor-length dress to stop her from walking away was still vivid in my mind.

Nicole Kidman

Now as I saw the movie again, I find the feature more style than content. The tilted camera shots? A bit contrived. Malkovich is still evil, and Kidman still the innocent victim, but there isn’t much complexity in the characterization. The editing and much abridged dialogues leave a vacuum. Considering the rich descriptive prowess of Henry James, much is left to be desired in the film. Yes, I’m one who advocates for the appreciation of books and films as two different art forms, and should not be doing a literal comparison when judging the adaptation. Well, I’m not. I’m weighing the film on its own merits. Yes, set design is rich and some artistic shots, but overall pales despite the sumptuous colours. And, what happened to Nicole Kidman’s hair? As much as I’d appreciated Campion’s works, especially her Oscar winning (Best Original Screenplay) film The Piano, I do feel maybe it’s a good time to do a remake of The Portrait of a Lady.

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

After the movie I turned right away to Banville’s book. Here’s my review on Goodreads:

Mrs. Osmond

“I jumped to this book right after reading Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. As I understand this new work of Banville’s to be a ‘sequel’ to James’s book, I had high expectations of the Booker winning author carrying Isabel Archer’s (Mrs. Osmond’s) story forward, taking her through twists and turns and eventually letting her find redemption and a new life. However this was not to be exactly as I’d envisioned.

Mrs. Osmond is divided into two Parts. Maybe for the benefit of those who haven’t read or reread The Portrait of a Lady in preparation for his book, Banville retells James’s story in Part I. While he’s very detailed in his descriptive style, and to his credit, creeping inside the minds of his characters, he repeats himself frequently in reminding his readers how Isabel Archer got deceived by Madame Merle and fell into the marriage trap of Gilbert Osmond’s. So basically the story remains static throughout Part I.

(Spoiler Alert in the following)

Part II leads us to Isabel’s own scheme of turning the tables on Osmond and Merle, and let them have a taste of their own medicine by just transferring the ownership of her residence the palazzo in Rome over to Madame M. and let the culprits be trapped with each other. That’s all there is to her plan, and it’s an expensive vengeance. As for her own dear life and its purpose for the remains of her days, the path is as obscure as before, albeit Banville has dropped a hint of the suffrage movement being a meaningful direction.

While Mrs. Osmond may not be as gratifying as I’d expected, this is an interesting concept, taking literary classics and imagining a sequel. Now that could lead to a brave new genre of fiction writing.”

A Movie Remake, anyone?

If there’s one, who’d you like to see playing the role of Isabel Archer? Gilbert Osmond? Madame Merle? Director?

 

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Related Post:

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?

 

Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A Bath Walking Tour

As a tribute to the Bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, July 18th, 2017 to be exact, I’m reposting my personal encounter with the city of Bath, Jane’s home for four years and the setting of Persuasion.

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The second time I visited Bath, I was a more intentional traveller. I let Austen’s Persuasion be my guide.  With a detailed street map in my hand, I went exploring the places mentioned in the novel, many of them I missed in my first visit.

“I was not so much changed…” was Anne Elliot’s words to Captain Wentworth upon seeing him eight years after turning him down.  The termination of their relationship was not her own intention, but duty had driven her to yield to Lady Russell’s persuasion.  It would have been a “throw-away” for Anne at 19 to engage with “a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, … uncertain profession, and no connections.” (p. 20)

But the star-crossed lovers are granted the bliss of a second chance, and rightly grab it this time. Austen’s setting of Bath in the book is no coincidence.  The Georgian City was the centre of fashion and the epitome of genteel society, a hotbed of social phenom for the critic and satirist in Austen. Jane had lived in Bath herself for four years, 1801 – 1805, with her sister Cassandra and their parents. Ironically, she was unpersuaded by its attractions according to her biographer Claire Tomalin.

Austen aptly uses Bath’s addresses for the purpose of her characterization. Geographical location is everything in a class-conscious society, as Keiko Parker’s excellent article Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion points out.

First off,  there’s the Pump Room, where in Jane Austen’s days people socialized and met one another, gathered to drink the therapeutic water, catch the latest fashion, simply to see and be seen. The magnificent structure and decor makes The Pump Room a fine restaurant now:

Despite its grand decor, the areas around the baths are residences for the common folks in Austen’s time. Mrs. Smith, the poor, infirmed widow with whom Anne maintains a loyal friendship, lives in the Westgate Buildings close to the Baths. Anne becomes a laughing stock for the snobbish Sir Walter when he hears of her least favourite daughter is determined to visit Mrs. Smith instead of accepting an invitation to Lady Dalrymple’s, someone belonging to the upper echelon of society:

“Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations, are inviting to you.” (p. 113)

Today, the open area outside the Pump Room by the Roman Baths is perhaps the most popular tourist gathering place. Tour buses stop at the Bath Abbey for pick up and drop off, buskers perform in the open space outside the Roman Baths and Pump Room:

Nearby is Sally Lunn’s Bun, originated in 1680 by a young French refugee, in the oldest house of Bath, ca. 1482. Now a restaurant on top, the cellar a museum that houses the original kitchen and cookwares, Sally Lunn’s serves this traditional creation: a large, soft, round bun that can go with just about anything. But probably best like this, simply with garlic butter:

The beautiful street corner outside Sally Lunn’s:

Further up the town, there’s Milsom Street, a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses.  The first time Anne saw Captain Wentworth again in Bath was on Milsom Street.  Here’s a present day view of the same site:

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As for Sir Walter himself, despite having to rent out his country mansion Kellynch Hall to avoid financial ruins, he has no intention that his retreat to Bath should compromise his status and comfort.  It’s only natural that others are curious: “What part of Bath do you think they’ll settle in?”  The answer is quite obvious: the part that is befitting their social standing.

According to Keiko Parker’s insightful article, physical elevation in Bath directly corresponds to social standing. The highest point at that time would have to be Camden Place, which is today’s Camden Crescent. While I was looking for it, the ‘Ye Old Farmhouse Pub’ was mentioned to me as the marker. I was glad to find it while walking up Landsdown Road, for it was indeed quite an uphill walk.

“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.

Anne entered it with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months…” (p. 98)

Just typical Austen, the overt contrast of characters using something indirect, here, the sense of place.

The houses on Camden Crescent has unobstructive view of lower Bath.  They are not grand mansions, but then again, location is everything. The following are some of the houses found on this road across from the escarpment:

And where do Sir Walter’s tenants Admiral and Mrs. Croft lodge during their short stay in Bath?  On Gay Street, not too high, not too low: “… perfectly to Sir Walter’s satisfaction.  He was not at all ashamed of the acquaintance, and did, in fact, think and talk a great deal more about the Admiral than the Admiral ever thought or talked about him.” (p. 121)

Elizabeth is not even half as kind as her vain and snobbish father.  Regarding the Crofts’ arrival in Bath, she suggests to Sir Walter that “We had better leave the Crofts to find their own level.” (p. 120)

In contrast, Anne has a good impression of the Admiral and his dear wife, the kind and down-to-earth couple, Mrs. Croft’s being the sister of Captain Wentworth having minimal bearing on Anne’s fondness of them. During their sojourn in Bath to mend a gouty Admiral Croft, Anne enjoys watching them strolling together, “it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her.” (p. 121)

So I’m just not a bit surprised to see their temporary lodging in Bath being on Gay Street.  Who else had lived there?  Jane Austen herself: #25 to be exact:

As for a suitable place for socializing, Sir Walter and his favourite daughter Elizabeth choose the Upper Assembly Rooms, a much newer development closer to their upper, more fashionable side of town, although he would prefer entertaining in private which is even more prestigious.

The Assembly Rooms are a magnificent architectural legacy in their own rights.  Designed by John Wood the Younger, who raised the £20,000 needed for the venture, the ground-breaking project began in 1769 and opened for public use in 1771.  It was the biggest investment in a single building in 18th Century Bath. Four public rooms made up the suite:  The Octagon, Ball Room, Card Room, and Tea Room.

“Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs, Clay, were the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room (p. 131).

Here’s the exquisite Octagon Room:

Regarding the chandelier, there’s this interesting account in The Authorised Guide (p.7):

“On 15 August 1771 Jonathan Collett quoted £400 for supplying five cut-glass chandeliers for the Ball Room. They were up in time for the opening of the Rooms in September, but the following month disaster struck when ‘one of the arms of the chandilers in the Ballroom fell down during the time the company was dancing, narrowly missing  Gainsborough. What could be salvaged from the set was made up into a single chandelier, which now hangs in the Octagon.”

I was just simply amazed at how long these chandeliers had lasted, well over 300 years, and in excellent shape. Their brilliance had not faded, evolving from candlelight to gas, and now electric:

Anne and her party attend a music program in the Concert Hall.  That’s a function in the Tea Room. Despite the name which seems to convey a small and cozy setting, the Tea Room is a gorgeous room of 60 ft. by 43 ft. dimension.  On one end is a magnificent colonnade of the Ionic order.  Subscription concerts are regular events held in the Tea Room. Mozart and Haydn had written compositions to be performed there, with Haydn himself having graced the magnificent venue.

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But what does Anne Elliot think about all the grandeur?  After earlier in the Octagon Room talking with Captain Wentworth, who has openly expressed his long-held passion for her, Anne, overwhelmed by a great flood of euphoria, now walks into the Concert Room (Tea Room):

“Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room.  Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it.  She was thinking only of the last half hour…” (p. 134)

As a visitor to the historic venue, I was captivated by the well-maintained interior and its elegance, and presently amused and surprised to find this display in between two columns: The Chair, which is mentioned several times in Persuasion. The Bath Chair was invented right here in the Georgian City to transport the rich and the sick.  It could be steered by the passenger:

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Jane might have noticed the frivolity and pierced through the façade of high society of the time with her critical eyes, but as a modern day tourist, I’m just amazed at how well history has been preserved, totally persuaded that Bath is a place I will definitely revisit some more in the future.

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All photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  All Rights Reserved.

References:

1. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, 2000.

2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Modern Library Classics, Introduction by Amy Bloom, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2001.

3. The Authorised Guide: The Assembly Rooms, Bath. Published by the Heritage Services division of Bath and North East Somerset Council in association with the National Trust.  Written by Oliver Garnett and Patricia Dunlop.

4. “What Part of Bath Do You Think They Will Settle In?”: Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion by Keiko Parker.  Retrieved Online http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number23/parker.pdf

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To join in the celebration of Jane Austen 200, I’ll have more Austen posts coming up this week.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing Book Review

April 3rd UPDATE: Do Not Say We Have Nothing shortlisted for the Baileys Prize.

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First the Booker, then the Giller and the GG, and now longlisted for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, this voice must be heard. I thank Asian American Press for allowing me to post my review here in full, and Penguin Random House Canada for my reviewer’s copy.

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Just a few months after it was published in May, 2016, Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing was shortlisted for a Booker Prize and had won the top two Canadian literary awards, the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for fiction. That is extraordinary achievements for the Vancouver born, Montreal based writer.

Thien creates her third novel on a large canvas, spanning from the decades leading to Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1960’s China and onward to the Tiananmen Square protests and government crackdown in 1989. Even though her novel does not stem directly from a personal experience like others’ such as Dai Sijie’s semi-autobiographical Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, or the eye-witness account of journalist Jan Wong’s Red China Blues, Thien’s outsider’s stance is far compensated by her extensive and detailed research, not just 20th Century history of China but down to the streets and local teahouses. Further, the absence of a first-person experience is replaced by an exuberance of imaginary characters and storytelling, all intricately woven with actual accounts of historical figures and events.

While not being an eye-witness, Thien’s cultural lineage could have brought her into a kind of insider’s realm. Born to Malaysian-Chinese immigrant parents in Canada, Thien’s previous writing had depicted the unique perspective framed by her upbringing. The stories in her collection Simple Recipes (2001) have revealed poignantly the cultural and generational conflicts that could exist in a North American Asian family. Further, Thien’s previous novel Dogs at the Perimeter (2011) had prepared her well to venture into the abyss of human atrocity, with the backdrop of Khmer Rouge’s infamous killing fields in Cambodia. Do Not Say We Have Nothing presents a larger landscape and a more ambitious undertaking than her previous works.

Madeleine Thien

This is how the book opens, simple yet powerful:

“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life.”

Here we hear a voice, seemingly nonchalant, but still lucid and sad. This is the voice of the protagonist, Marie. She was ten years-old and living with her mother in Vancouver when she learned of her father’s suicide in Hong Kong. The year was 1989. Not long after this news, Marie’s mother took in nineteen-year-old Ai-ming from China, alien and undocumented, escaped out of the country during the Tiananmen crackdown.

Ai-ming’s short refuge in Marie’s home bonded the two like sisters. As well, she opened the eyes of young Marie to life inside a totalitarian regime. The radio played only eighteen pieces of approved music. Her father, Sparrow, would listen to illegal music secretly and hum the melody of his own composition when he thought no one was around. Ai-ming’s interactions with Marie have prodded her—now twenty years later and a professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University—to search for the truth about her father Kai and his mentor, Ai-ming’s father Sparrow, as well the tragic personal and national history that had consumed their lives.

With Ai-ming’s help, Marie and her mother began to decipher a secret hand-copied manuscript Kai had kept, “The Book of Records”, passed on to him from Sparrow, an allegorical account of their life in China, outward journey and clandestine dreams, “things we never say aloud”. As a young child, Marie was overwhelmed. Now as an adult, she is driven all the more to pursue the truth of her own family history.

It is not easy to follow Thien’s story in the first few chapters as there are many characters introduced with their own backstory. Time frame switches back and forth, spanning two continents. As I entered Chapter 4, I had to draw up a character chart, as I was looking into a kaleidoscope of three generations and other colourful figures against tumultuous events. If the book had included such a chart at the beginning, it would be most helpful for readers.

We follow Marie’s discovery as she comes to learn that her father Kai used to be a gifted piano student at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and Sparrow, a prominent composer, was his teacher there. Together with Sparrow’s young cousin Zhuli, a prodigious violin student, the three forged an unspeakable bond. They cherished each other’s dreams with youthful fervors, which all were altered if not extinguished when Mao ignited his Cultural Revolution.

When she was small, Zhuli discovered by accident her parents’ secret storage where they hid their treasures of western classical music records and books. This led to her parents, Swirl and Wren the Dreamer, to be charged as counter-revolutionary. They were publically criticised and humiliated, then sent to separate labour camps in the remote northwest of China in the name of ‘re-education’. Zhuli was taken secretly to her aunt, Big Mother’s Knife, Sparrow’s mother, and there she grew up. The woman who brought her there had met her aunt only once while on the train. As she ate a lot of the White Rabbit brand candies, we know her by that name. The White Rabbit told Zhuli about her parents’ situation matter-of-factly:

“They’ve been sent for re-education, that’s all… Since you’ve never been educated at all, it seemed pointless to send you along with them.”

This is just one incident where Thien deftly dispenses humour amidst somber events. This is what makes the book enjoyable to read. The subtle humour often is the wrapping of the resilience of human spirit hidden among tragic happenings.

Thien’s story is embedded in historical facts. The prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music was shut down in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution, its five hundred pianos destroyed, denouncement and physical battering of the professors and students had resulted in deaths and suicides. Bearing the brunt of the persecution was the unyielding Conservatory President He Luting, beaten but not bent.

Due to their political affiliation, Sparrow’s parents Big Mother Knife and Ba Lute are spared, but what remains in Sparrow is a compromising existence, being sent to work as a factory work for twenty years after the shutdown of the Conservatory. Kai the pragmatist chooses to follow the mainstream and becomes a Red Guard. Young Zhuli sets foot on a tragic path.

With such a setting, it is only natural that Thien would use classical music as the leitmotif of her composition. Shostakovich, Beethoven and Bach are like witnesses to the unfolding of human atrocity, their melodies the fuel that sustains whatever internal fervour that remains. Shostakovich, himself a composer treading a precarious line between authenticity and self-preservation under Stalin’s rule, is an apt metaphor of the situation the trio have to face. The different choices made by Sparrow, Kai and Zhuli well represent the paths that are opened to an artist facing political persecutions.

On another note, and true to her Canadian root, Thein lets pianist Glenn Gould and his two recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations be a recurring motif in her story. Bach’s ethereal and invigorating theme and variations belong to Sparrow, the sustenance for his inner life despite deadening circumstances outside.

As the canvas is huge, Thien’s subject matters are numerous. The details and complexity may be a hindrance to readers’ enjoyment. Yet Thien’s voice is close and personal. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, the title taken from the workers anthem the ‘Internationale’, deserves our listening ears. As an instructor of the then newly established MFA Program in Creative Writing at City University of Hong Kong from 2010, Thien experienced first-hand the abrupt cancellation of the program in 2015 “as a result of internal and external politics” as stated in her Acknowledgement at the back of the book. In her article in The Guardian (May 18, 2015), she notes that students from the Program had published essays in support of the Occupy Central student-led democracy movement, the ‘Umbrella Revolution’, that brought Hong Kong to a standstill. That personal experience could well have informed and given her the potent, insider’s voice in her novel writing.

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~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

 

New Announcements of Books to Screen

Some exciting announcements of upcoming adaptations:

howards-end-by-e-m-forsterHowards End by E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End is to be adapted into a four-part TV miniseries produced by BBC and Starz, to be helmed by the Oscar nominated Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan. Hayley Atwell plays Margaret Schlegel, Matthew Macfayden takes the role of Henry Wilcox, and Tracey Ullman is Aunt Juley Mund. I just can’t help but compare this new cast to that of the, shall I say, definitive 1992 Merchant Ivory production with Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave. Inimitable. Yet, I’m glad to hear of a rebirth of this brilliant E. M. Forster novel.

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guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-societyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Barrows and Maryanne Shaffer

At long last, the best-selling novel (2009) is finally adapted for the big screen, renamed Guernsey. Phew! While its popularity has subsided by now, I hope the movie will revive it, for it’s a delightful read and the characters are resilient residents on German occupied Guernsey Island during WWII. Written as a series of letters between a London writer Juliet Ashton and her friend and publisher Sydney Stark and later, with the charming Guernsey folks, the book exalts the power of reading, not potato peeling. How do you turn epistles into a movie? We’ll have to see. Downton Abbey‘s Lily James will play Juliet, after first Kate Winslet then Rosamund Pike dropped out. Hope this will go to completion. The director is Mike Newell, known for Great Expectations (2012), Mona Lisa Smile (2003), and perhaps the most memorable, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).

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the-child-in-timeThe Child in Time by Ian McEwan

At last something to look forward to after Downton. Ian McEwan’s Whitbread winning novel (1987) about the perpetual trauma of a lost child will be adapted into a 90 min. TV drama co-produced by BBC and Masterpiece. Benedict Cumberbatch to star. With the Sherlock series going down an erratic rather than rational path, I hope this one is a more grounded outlet for Benedict’s superb acting skills, like his Parade’s End (2013). This is his second time in a McEwan novel. Back in 2007, he played a supporting role in the Oscar nominated Atonement, relatively unknown, stressing on the ‘relatively’. And hats off to actors who can navigate freely between the big and small screen platforms.

 

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51p921wTKtL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_ (1).jpg

The Sea Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Glad to learn that Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long, The English Patient) is stepping out from her long acting career into the director’s chair, and acting too in this adaptation of English author Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novel. While I haven’t read any of Howard’s works, I’d seen the screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s, and that’s her screenplay for the Oscar winning Polish film Ida (2013). I highly anticipate Lenkiewicz’s new work. Glad she’s collaborating with Scott Thomas in her directorial debut. Mark Strong is said to be in talks to join the project. Of course, my dream cast would be Colin Firth with Kristin Scott Thomas.

 

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crazy-rich-asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

According to director Jon Chu (Now You See Me 2), this will be “the first all-Asian cast feature from a Hollywood studio in a long, long time.” Umm… since Joy Luck Club (1993) that is. A risk or a good opportunity? Constance Wu (TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat”) is on board to play a major role. If you’ve not read the book, rest assure that with a title like this, it has got to be a satire, and not a get-rich-quick manual. Not that I’m crazy, nor rich, but reading Kwan’s imaginary yet true-to-life characters is an extravagantly wild ride. His astute and bold satire of modern day’s opulent Singaporean families (his own cultural background) is what Jane Austen would have loved to poke fun of if she found herself in a 21st century rich Asian home. But of course, just like the writing of our dear Jane of yesteryears, the heroine (Rachel in Kwan’s book) is your everyday middle class, highly educated yet modest gal growing up in (immigrant) America, finding (surprise!) that her boyfriend actually is Mr. Darcy incognito when she travels back with him to his family home in Singapore for the wedding of his best friend. I highly anticipate this one, but with great trepidations. They better make this work, or it could easily be a disaster of ethnic proportions.

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Related Post on Ripple Effects:

Howard’s End by E. M. Forster
Ida’s Choice: Thoughts on Pawlikowski’s Ida
I’ve Loved You So Long movie review
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Book Review