Great Books That Haven’t Been Adapted For The Screen (Yet): a Reader’s Wishlist

In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in novels and comic book film adaptations making a successful transition to television (Game of Thrones, the Walking Dead, True Blood).

Right now, television seems like the most viable medium to tell these kind of big epic stories, but what about their potential adaptability for film? What might the following literary favorites look like if brought to the big screen?

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (satire)

The first of our book-to-film speculative picks is Alissa Nutting’s satirical novel Tampa. The blistering and darkly comic tale of sexual nihilist and teenage-boy obsessed Celeste Price was Nutting’s disturbingly impressive 2013 debut and billed by a multitude of press outlets as one of the “most controversial” novels published last year. Using Deborah LaFave as a character template for Celeste, the author examines how our media depicts sexual predators like LaFave as somehow less culpable than their male counterparts. Directors that could be a perfect fit for adapting the contentious Tampa include Larry Clark or Todd Solondz. Solondz (Happiness, Life During Wartime) has consistently delivered ensemble character dramas of humanity at its most warped, populated by suburban degenerates.  His adaptation could both convey Nutting’s socially-conscious message while retaining the novel’s pitch-black humor. We’re guessing he’d be most likely to cast Lara Flynn Boyle as Celeste. Clark (Kids, Bully) is a director well-equipped to tackle editing/excising the book’s more explicit psycho-sexual content. He has never shied away from exploring the adolescent relationship with sex. One thing is for sure: there would be nothing tasteful about his adaptation. Clark might be most likely to cast Chloe Sevigny as his lead.

 

Whitstable by Stephen Volk

Whitstable by Stephen Volk (drama/historical fiction)

Stephen Volk’s novella (or speculative biography?) about actor Peter Cushing’s life in the weeks following the death of his wife reads like a story already written for the screen. Not that I’m dismissing the novella’s literary merit or depth of character; it is a superb story with a powerful impact for anybody who loves Cushing’s incredible body of work. Whitstable was penned by Volk, best known for writing The Awakening and Ken Russell’s Gothic. In the novel, Volk’s Cushing is recognized by a Famous Monsters of Filmland-loving boy who is convinced that Cushing is a vampire hunter. Cushing finds himself in the precarious position of protector as he takes on a quotidian evil far removed from the celluloid beasts he has slain on the silver screen. Our pick for director: Nicholas Roeg, the filmmaker responsible for the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and the horror classic Don’t Look Now. Both films share some thematic strands & narrative hooks with Whitstable: both storylines are heavily informed by loss and focus on children threatened. The Witches pitted a boy and his grandmother against a collective of gruesome kid-hating monsters in a blustery, sea-swept hotel, while Don’t Look Now exploited a father’s loss and grief with a supernatural bent – resulting in maximum spooky chills. Whitstable covers similar ground with its eerie coastal setting, potboiler plotting, child-in-jeopardy and a man on the cusp of unravelling in grief. Michael Fassbender would make an incredible Peter Cushing.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (psychodrama)

Readers familiar with both Shirley Jackson and Chan-wook Park will have spotted several plot parallels in the director’s 2013 visually splendid Stoker (from a script by Wentworth Miller) to Jackson’s 1962 psychodrama We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Fans could argue that Stoker is even an “unofficial” adaptation of the text, or at the very least, a bold homage to the classic. So, it is entirely plausible that a tale of mansion-dwelling sisters in the aftermath of mass-murder like We Have Always Lived at the Castle might be optioned. But who could make it work? Jennifer Lynch (Surveillance, Boxing Helena, and Chained) is a divisive voice in cinema; a writer/director who deals fearlessly with themes of both physical and psychological violence. Lynch could effortlessly bring the morbidly twisted character Meericat to visual life. Novelists Natsuo Kirino (Out and Grotesque) or Amelie Nothomb (The Book of Proper Names) could come on the film to share script duties; both craft flawed, dangerous and well-conceived sociopathic women that exist across the age/class/race spectrum.  She could leave the art direction to Pierre Duboisberranger and cinematography to Benoit Deb – both worked on the unnervingly dreamy Belgian/French flick Innocence. Lynch might consider casting Shailene Woodley as Meericat and Lily Rabe as Constance.

Born Free - Laura Hird

Born Free by Laura Hird (realist dramedy)

One book that is screaming out for adaptation is Laura Hird’s hilariously uplifting Born Free, a multiple-perspective portrait of a decent working-class Glaswegian family’s disintegration. Only an author as talented as Hird could write a book that covers statutory rape, alcoholism, mental illness and teenage bullying and make the story as funny as it is poignant, ugly and intimate. Julia Davis (Human Remains) is for our money one of the only directors (besides Mike Leigh and Andrea Arnold) who could conceivably bring Born Free to the screen and do the book justice. The award-winning British actress/writer/director and enfant terrible is responsible for Nighty Night, which ran for two seasons on BBC3 and garnered rave reviews for Davis’ vicious depiction of the hair-stylist-come-homicidal killer Jill Tyrrell and her violent obsession with neighbour Don, that escalates into multiple murders. If Davis toned down her directing touch and didn’t go for shock-factor or over-the-top dialogue, there is no good reason she couldn’t successfully adapt this book. She could consider casting Colin Firth as Vic and she herself could play Angie.

saga - Brian Vaughn

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn (epic fantasy/space opera)

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn is another family drama, though one explored through the prism of an operatic, intergalactic-in-scale multi-species space odyssey. Saga couldn’t work as a standalone film without sacrificing a large chunk of the Hugo-winning comic book’s character-focused storylines and broad mythology. One way to adapt a story like Saga, with such a complex narrative, might be for the small-screen; another option might be a trilogy or planned series of films. That is feasible, given the success of the X-Men franchise – but which director would be at the helm? If our wildest dreams could come true, Alejandro Jodorowsky would be a fascinating choice to work with Vaughn’s source material. Given the right budget and creative freedom, he could take the sci-fi/fantasy genre in an exciting new direction. After all, this is a director whose surrealist cinema and refusal to compromise has seen him court controversy over the years. The biggest risk would be Jodorowsky taking the story too far into left-field for a modern (and undemanding) audience of moviegoers. We’d love to see Naomi Harris cast in an adaptation from Jodorowsky. MM

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