Sunday, 6 May 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Book vs Film

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the story of an extremely wealthy Sheikh who enjoys Salmon fishing in his Scottish home so much, he wants to introduce the sport back home in the Yemen. So Harriet, a woman who works for the company that look after his many estates, enlists the help of fisheries expert Dr. Alfred Jones to plan the project and make it work.

But Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not really about Salmon, more the journey each of the characters takes during the whole process. Harriet is a strong woman, persuading Dr Jones to come on board with the project against his better judgement. However, she's also incredibly fragile as she writes letters to her fiance Robert while he is away at war. Dr Jones is in a practical and altogether loveless marriage, accustomed to the civility and monotony of everyday life. He believes the project is utter rubbish but when politicians get involved and make it a high-priority project, he is forced to take part. The Sheikh is a spiritual man, wanting the sport in the Yemen as a way to blur class boundaries and unify his people - though the people in the Yemen do not agree with his plans. He is the kind of awe-inspiring man that leaps off the page and will have many readers wishing they could have met him.

Overall, the developing friendship between the Sheikh, Harried and Alfred is what makes the story so fascinating. The Sheikh's beliefs and way of looking at the world eventually start to rub off on the pragmatic Dr Jones and he begins to realise that perhaps there is more to life than what he currently has with his wife. Harriet, a woman who must keep her cool in all situations, is struggling without her fiance and not hearing from him unnerves her. 

The end of the book though is utterly shocking and breaks with convention in every way. Though some unexpected endings work well, this one seemed completely out of place and was ultimately quite jarring and unsatisfactory.  Due possibly to the constant shift in styles, it also doesn't feel like it really ends - it just stops.  I actually turned the page to see what happened next and realised there was no more.

Paul Torday's book was interesting in its delivery thanks to the combination of communications - there are emails, letters, memos and interview transcriptions. This makes it an easy book to dip in and out of. There are no chapter headings, only shifts in communication style. There is comedy, drama and emotion. Overall, it was an interesting concept but left a little to be desired in its execution.

Sadly, one rather central character - that of the Prime Minister's right-hand man Peter Maxwell - is utterly self-serving and dull to read. When there were pages and pages of his interview, I found myself skimming through them. In the adaptation, the biggest stroke of genius was turning the dull Peter Maxwell into the hilariously cheeky Patricia Maxwell. Kristin Scott Thomas breathed life into a tired role with a brilliantly witty and humorous performance. She stole the screen every time she appeared and had many viewers grinning from ear to ear.

Emily Blunt was also great casting in the role of Harriet, oozing both professional charm and a fragility in equal measure. Sadly though, in making her fiance Robert her boyfriend of only a few weeks, the stress and anguish she feels at his being at war feels a little over the top. Amr Waked was good in the role of the Sheikh but sadly did not quite live up to the sheer presence of the character which Torday wrote so beautifully. Ewan McGregor was brilliantly cast as Dr Jones, delivering his lines with a monotony and dryness that somehow made him more endearing. The changes he goes through as the story develops are done with such subtlety that you often don't realise they've happened until after the event. 

The film also uses the communication style of the book well, incorporating the use of emails with screenshots and voiceovers, texts and even a rather entertaining speech bubble instant message function between Maxwell and the Prime Minister. 

The film, directed by Lars Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), managed to iron out many of the kinks that existed in the book, bringing humour to a dull central role and shifting the focus more to the developing friendship between the three main characters. However, just when I thought the end of the book was jarring, the filmmakers decided to completely change it for the film. This story is not all about the ending luckily, so the film is not completely destroyed for the change - and for those who haven't read the book, it may well have worked. However, the filmmakers reluctance to part with any of the characters turned a shocking ending into a sentimental one. The result was a cute, nice film which will no doubt make audiences smile but could have been far braver.

Book - 3/5
Film - 3/5

Friday, 4 May 2012

Film vs. Book Debates: Formulaic stories - Idiotic or Reliable?

This week, I've found myself justifying why I enjoy Nicholas Sparks's books, after my interview with the man himself went live. I understand why people may not have heard of him. After all, he writes romance novels, so if you don't enjoy reading a good romance, why would you know him? And if that isn't what you enjoy then I can totally see why you wouldn't be a fan. His books appeal to a specific target audience and I understand why anyone outside of that audience would not necessarily see his appeal.

Sparks's books are not particularly literary and are short and simplistic enough to lend themselves to being made into films. Does this make them bad? Well no. I often stress that books and films are - in their simplest form - escapism. Sometimes people want to be intellectually challenged and read something complex and wordy like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Cloud Atlas. Other times, they want an easy-to-read romance and will turn to Sophie Kinsella or Nicholas Sparks to satisfy that need. They want a story that will take you along for a ride and leave you content at the end without the need to have a lie-down or take a paracetamol because your head hurts.

It isn't just romances that do this. Formulas have been used in both books and films for years and will continue to for many more, of that I have no doubt. There is a sense of security in using a formula. Just think about how many films you've watched or books you've read about the young protégé who is forced to take over the mentor's role - Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, The Godfather. When it comes to romance, how many truly original romantic stories can you name? Guy and girl meet. Something gets in their way. They find a way to stay together anyway. If there was no conflict, where would the drama be? If they just met, fell in love and lived 'happily ever after', how very dull the story would be.

Blockbuster romance Titanic was the largest grossing film of all time before Director James Cameron's next film Avatar knocked it off the top spot. Millions of people across the world went to see the film. So did the IQ of the planet suddenly plummet? No. People were as intelligent when they came out as they were when they went in. The difference was simply that they had spent a couple of hours (well in the case of Titanic - more than 3!) living somebody else's life. They were - for the time they passed in the cinema - living the lives of Jack and Rose. They wondered if they would be able to stay together, if they would make it off the boat, if anyone would turn round and punch Rose's god-awful mother (just me?!).

In that premise lies the appeal of many of the formulaic stories. With Nicholas Sparks, you know what you're letting yourself in for. There will be romance - uninhibited, passionate romance. There will be drama, probably a tragedy. There will be a happy tied-up ending, but not before - in most cases - a few tears have been shed. In the predictability of a Sparks novel or film lies reassurance and stability. If you've seen his other films or read his other books, then you will know if they are your cup of tea or not. Simple.

People, I imagine, feel the same way about Michael Bay. I was a teenager when I first saw Pearl Harbor and was mortified when I read a critic say that no intelligent person could possibly enjoy that film. Was I an idiot for having 'enjoyed' it so much I bawled for the last half an hour of the film? No. I was a teenage girl madly in love with both Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck, just as Kate Beckinsale's character was at the time. Watching it back now, I actually find it quite amusing. The drama, the action, the you'd-have-lost-the-war-if-it-wasn't-for-us American ethos of it all is laughable. But entertaining it still is. People say similar things about Transformers - but who that knows Michael Bay's work would go to see a Transformers sequel expecting plot? Stuff gets blown up, there's a hot girl screaming SAAAAAM! on repeat and cars turn into alien robots. That's what you expect, and that's what you get. Bay delivers.

Why then does enjoying these formulaic stories make you an idiot? If reading a book or watching a film is simply a way for a person to escape, why does wanting to escape into the security of a well-known formula make you an imbecile?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

COMPETITION: The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd Gets a US Release


British Author Lynn Shepherd began her career as an author by turning the Jane Austen classic Mansfield Park into a murder mystery with her novel Murder at Mansfield Park. Now she's returning with The Solitary House (Tom-All-Alone's in the UK), a Dickensian crime thriller inspired by Charles Dickens's Bleak House.

Tom-All-Alone's is a dark and gripping Victorian murder mystery, immersing the reader in a grim London underworld. 
London, 1850. Fog in the air and filth in the streets, from the rat-infested graveyard of Tom-All-Alone's to the elegant chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields, where the formidable lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn has powerful clients to protect, and a deadly secret to hide. Only that secret is now under threat from a shadowy and unseen adversary - an adversary who must be tracked down at all costs, before it's too late.

Who better for such a task than young Charles Maddox? Unfairly dismissed from the police force, Charles is struggling to establish himself as a private detective. Only business is slow and his one case a dead end, so when Tulkinghorn offers a handsome price for an apparently simple job Charles is unable to resist. But as he soon discovers, nothing here is what it seems. An assignment that starts with anonymous letters leads soon to a brutal murder, as the investigation lures Charles ever deeper into the terrible darkness Tulkinghorn will stop at nothing to conceal.

To celebrate today's American launch of this book, the lovely folk at Random House US have five copies to give away to American residents. And for those Brits who want to get their hands on a copy too, Constable & Robinson have one of the UK editions to give away.

To be in with a chance of winning, email with "Lynn Shepherd Competition" in the subject matter and answer the following question:

The Solitary House is inspired by a Charles Dickens classic. But which one?
A. Oliver Twist
B. A Christmas Carol
C. Bleak House

For more information on Lynn Shepherd, check out her website or follow her on Twitter @lynn_shepherd.

The competition will close at midnight (GMT) on Tuesday 8th May 2012 and is available to entrants from the USA or UK only. 
Please state in your entry email which of these you are from.

EXCLUSIVE: Nicholas Sparks on Having His Novels Adapted to the Big Screen

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of chatting with Nicholas Sparks about The Lucky One and what it's like to have so many of his books adapted into films.

Here's what he had to say on the matter:

The Lucky One hits cinemas this week and is another in an ever-growing number of your books adapted to the big screen. How involved were you in the adaptation process this time around?
Making films is a collaborative process and I'm certainly one of the collaborators on the creative aspects of the film, whether it comes down to helping to choose the screenwriter or giving notes on the screenplay, helping to select a director or even having input on the casting. The things I don't do are the studio aspects whether it's budgets, cinematography, things like that.

And are you happy with the end result?
Yeah! I thought The Lucky One was a very good sell. If you like films based on my novels, you will love The Lucky One.

How was it seeing Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in the roles? Was it how you had envisioned it?
I thought Zac and Taylor were great. We wanted someone who was twenty-five years old or under because that's the average age of marines. We wanted someone who had an aura of being a nice guy and Zac is like that, Zac really has the aura of the character. We wanted someone who was really a great performer because we were going to saddle him with a lot of emotional stuff - you know, PTSD and all her issues. Then, of course, once you have Zac, what you're looking for is chemistry with Zac. Taylor not only had chemistry with Zac but she has a lot of emotional depth as an actress and it was good!

Check out Novelicious to see the full interview.

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