Sunday 19 November 2017

Not quite sure it's wise to hit the road, Jack

I haven't yet seen the new movie version of Jack Kerouac's On The Road, though it always struck me as a book that would be as difficult to adapt for film as I found it to read -- "that's not writing, it's typing", as Truman Capote witheringly observed.

But then Brendan Gleeson's long-cherished project (currently "in development") of filming Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds seems even more daunting.

If ever there was a defiantly "literary" book, surely that's up there with Tristram Shandy and Ulysses, both of which were turned into movies, though not very successfully.

Other seemingly unfilmable novels include Yann Martel's Man Booker winner, Life Of Pi, and David Mitchell's much-lauded Cloud Atlas, but they're both scheduled for major cinema release in the near future. Will Tom Hanks' reassuring presence in the latter make the narrative's convolutions easier to follow?

Mind you, there have been a few outstanding movies of literary masterpieces that seemed wholly resistant to adaptation. Colin Gregg's 1983 BBC version of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse (with TP McKenna in one of his finest performances) found a wonderful visual equivalent for the author's ruminative prose, while John Huston's film of Joyce's The Dead is perhaps the finest and truest of all literary adaptations.

Researchers at Yale and Moscow State University have collaborated in an attempt to discover whether literature is in the genes, and they've concluded that if you want to write it's an advantage to come from a literary family.

In England, of course, there were the three Bronte sisters, father Kingsley Amis and son Martin, not to mention Arthur Waugh, who sired Alec and Evelyn Waugh, with Auberon and Daisy continuing the tradition in succeeding generations. And in America, writing families have included the Jameses and the Cheevers.

There are fewer such writing dynasties in Ireland. Indeed, I can only think of Edna O'Brien and son Carlo Gebler, along with John Banville and brother Vincent.

But maybe the findings are hogwash anyway.

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