Is my book re­ally ready for its closeup?

Stripped down for TV, my novel ap­pears to be first a fraud – and then some­thing new

The Guardian - Weekend - - Front Contents -

I write a book, and some­one de­cides to make it into a movie. I’m glad: this was the case with Trou­bling Love, with The Days of Aban­don­ment, and now with My Bril­liant Friend.

Then? Then the work be­gins. My first im­pres­sion is trau­matic, as the lit­er­ary cover is torn off my novel. It’s a ter­ri­ble mo­ment: I worked on that text for years, and now ev­ery­thing seems im­pov­er­ished: places, events, char­ac­ters. A city square minutely de­scribed is re­duced in the screenplay to the sim­ple com­mon noun: square. An event to which I de­voted many pages shrinks, be­comes a stage di­rec­tion. Char­ac­ters be­come names, ac­tions are abridged, as are lines of di­a­logue. Stripped down, the novel sud­denly ap­pears to the writer to be a trick of lit­er­ary words, a fraud, and she is slightly ashamed. The story, in this sum­mary form, is ba­nal. The den­sity I thought I had achieved has van­ished. I have to ac­knowl­edge that I failed to in­clude things that now seem es­sen­tial, and gave too much space to what now seems su­per­flu­ous. I want to say, “Let’s give it up – my novel doesn’t seem suit­able.”

Then, lit­tle by lit­tle, one gets used to writ­ing for the screen. It’s a func­tional type of writ­ing, pre­par­ing the leap from the novel to the new work: the film. I calm down: my book is still fine; it con­tains what I had to write and was able to; it’s sit­ting on the ta­ble, com­pletely self-suf­fi­cient. But the film isn’t there yet: it wants to be, and re­lies on cin­e­matic writ­ing, whose job it is to iden­tify the film’s re­quire­ments and sat­isfy them. The perime­ter is drawn by my book, but in­side that perime­ter, ev­ery­thing is re­ar­ranged, reimag­ined based on the show – the real ob­jec­tive. Only at this point is the imag­i­na­tion kin­dled.

I can see very clearly what, while I was writ­ing the book, was ei­ther over­ex­plained or con­fused. I feel the need for scenes that in my story would have been su­per­flu­ous. I write di­a­logue that the tone of my text wouldn’t tol­er­ate. I of­ten seem to be col­lab­o­rat­ing on “re­mak­ing” my novel, with writ­ing that I would never have used. And when it all seems in or­der – the story and the di­a­logues flow; we’ve honed, elim­i­nated – the work seems fin­ished.

Yet this is just the be­gin­ning, a pre­lim­i­nary goal for writ­ing that, on the one hand, re­duces the book to its skele­ton, and on the other still dis­plays the fea­tures of ev­ery writ­ten word: am­bi­gu­ity, open­ness to mul­ti­ple rep­re­sen­ta­tions. In the film or tele­vi­sion ver­sion, ev­ery­thing, ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, will have to have a pre­cise as­pect: the streets, the church, the tun­nel, the houses, the rooms, a class­room, the desks. And ev­ery­one, ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one, will have to have a par­tic­u­lar body.

This in­evitable def­i­ni­tion of ev­ery de­tail will hap­pen out­side the screenplay it­self. As for the book, it will stay be­hind, im­per­turbable, while the film comes closer and closer to one of its pos­si­ble in­car­na­tions Trans­lated by Ann Gold­stein. My Bril­liant Friend starts on

Sky At­lantic on 19 Novem­ber.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.