Earlier this year I read Lion, about a little Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost in Kolkata, and survives on the streets before being adopted by an Australian family. As an adult he tracks down his mother and sister in India by using Google Earth.
The incredible true story became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel. I watched it and couldn’t help but be disappointed – it wasn’t a patch on the book. Yet if I’d seen it in theatres first, I wouldn’t have bothered reading about Saroo’s journey.
I decided I’d better get cracking before I’m tempted to laze in front of the screen. I’ve packed my incredibly packed (not really) reading list with some future adaptations and it’s quite a mix – YA, historical, science fiction. Here goes the YA/fluffier reading
Ophelia, by Lisa Klein
Get thee to a nunnery…not as passionate as Juliet, or bold and witty as Beatrice, Ophelia has always seemed a flimsy role.
But Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s perspective has forever banished thoughts of her as a tragic waif.
We meet Ophelia as a motherless girl moving to the court of Danish King Hamlet with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes.
Under Queen Gertrude’s slightly capricious care, Ophelia grows into an exceptionally intelligent woman I can see inhabited by Daisy Ridley. She catches the eye of Prince Hamlet, and becomes an expert on botany and herbology, curing the ailments of people at court.
What if she used those skills – and her formidable intelligence – to try to survive the tragedy that engulfs her family and Denmark?
I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s not “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomie Watts.) They don’t speak in blank verse, but there is a vivid sense of time and place.
As a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, Klein knows the setting and characters, and the result is a very atmospheric YA novel with a genuinely impressive heroine, although I did find the final quarter heavy-going.
Wrapped back in July after shooting in the Czech Republic, the film will star George MacKay – who was very good in Captain Fantastic – as Hamlet, and Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton as Laertes.
The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman
Daisy Ridley is having a busy year (or two). In this, she is slated to play a young art student in WWII Prague.
Lenka, a young Jewish woman living with her well-heeled family, falls in love with a classmate’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine. They marry, but when he escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are unable to follow, and the couple are torn apart.
This is well-researched (life in Prague before the occupation; the artwork of Jews suffering in the ghetto Terezin; the bravery of a few to produce an underground movement) but I couldn’t take to it.
Richman’s prose is flowing and romantic, but this is no epic, ambitious narrative. I didn’t believe Lenka and Josef were real people, just paper-thin dolls Richman could draw and colour in. I also really have doubts about her decision to start the novel with the conclusion.
The secondary characters are very lightly daubed on the page, and their stories basically end when it is clearly very convenient.
It’s hard to dismiss this as lightweight when Auschwitz and Mengele – names which strike immediate horror – appear in the text. Lenka’s choices and circumstances are naturally going to be heart-wrenching, but if I wanted to read a deeply affecting account of the Holocaust, there are plenty of books out there.
I suspect Richman just isn’t a writer I could enjoy. It’s far too early to say anything about the movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.
Next week, I review some forthcoming sci-fi adaptations….