Sunday, March 6, 2011

Six of the Best

Last weekend Nancy Pearl did a top ten list of neglected classics (in The Guardian) ripe for BBC adaptation. It’s a nice list composed in equal measures of books I love, authors I love, and books I now want because of the good company they’re clearly keeping but... One of the books on the list is F. M Mayor’s ‘The Rector’s Daughter’ which is an amazing moving and eventually heartbreaking book which I can’t help but think would make for miserable television (girl leads loveless and disappointing life with remarkable grace and stoicism than dies) I think it’s a bit subtle for television. All of which started me making my own list of neglected books I’d love to see in glorious Technicolor on a Sunday Evening.

The rules (there have to be rules) were that I had to be able to imagine watching instead of reading, that there shouldn’t already be filmed versions (I broke this immediately), and that the lesser known works of better known authors probably shouldn’t be included (which meant ruling out Wilkie Collins and Trollope amongst others). This all turned out to be a bit tougher than I thought (damn all self imposed rules) but here’s my list of books, ten wasn’t a rule I felt I needed to pay much attention to.

It starts with Gavin Maxwell, there’s already a film version of ‘Ring of Bright Water’ but it doesn’t do justice to either Maxwell or this particular book. Think about it – fast cars, sharks, arctic exploration, brushes with the Mafia, aristocratic connections, confused sexuality, witches, amazing scenery, and of course otters – and that’s just for starters. I could see this being a properly exciting bio pic probably in 6 parts or more and based on all his books (for no good reason I’m picturing Daniel Craig hunting sharks possibly, and for entirely artistic reasons, without a shirt).

Now that the token man has had his mention... Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ is definitely begging for the Sunday night slot, any sensation novel I’ve read would be a good fit, but why this particular book isn’t much better known baffles me; plenty of sex and attempted murder with the chance for some lavish costumes – it’s what I pay my licence fee for.

I would also dearly love to see what E M Delafield’s Provincial Lady books would look like, possibly in a superior sitcom format. All that genteel bitching over the tea cups and pawning of the family diamond to keep up appearances, I’m sure it could be a winner or would it be better suited to radio? Hmmm.

Mrs Oliphant is another TV friendly writer who deserves to be as widely loved as Trollope at the very least. ‘Miss Marjoribanks’ is the only Carlingford chronicle I’ve read so far (though this is soon to change) and I would love to watch it – like a racier ‘Cranford’ with a few good female roles and a nicely caddish villain, a bit of romance, some tragedy, and a heroine who could give Emma a run for her money.

Elizabeth Bowen's ‘The Last September’ has already been made into a film, it’s got an impressive cast and I’ve only just found out about it via Google; the trailer looks rubbish . It took me two attempts to get into this book and I know that Simon Stuck-in-a-book isn’t much of a fan but stay with me on this one because it could be great to watch. The relationship between the Irish, English, and Anglo Irish is ripe for exploration – all those themes of loyalty, belonging, tradition, class, conflict, and then throw in a bit of coming of age drama and romance (but not to heavy on the romance please – there are other things in the world that matter) and bob’s your uncle – a thought provoking feast for the eye.

Angela Carter’s ‘Night’s at the Circus’ would be a belter to watch as well – hopefully ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ will be such a success that those who decide will be looking around for another Victorian set drama featuring brothels (and would be happy to include a winged woman flying through the air with the greatest of ease). ‘The Company of Wolves’ wasn’t a flop - now I’m thinking about it I’d love to watch it again - and I think the world is ready to see more Carter. I love her writing but admit that not so many of her books would be just right for anything but a very specialised audience (I really wouldn’t want to watch ‘The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman’ for example) but ‘Nights at the Circus’ would be a treat.

Making this list has been far harder than I imagined. It turns out that I have a lot of books I haven’t read (I sort of knew that) and so can’t comment on, and a lot of books which are already on film in one form or another whether I knew it or not. I don’t consciously go out looking for tie in novels, more often than not the book comes before the film but I’m clearly more in tune with semi popular culture than I imagined. Now all I want to know is what would make it onto your list?


  1. I really wish I had liked The Last September, but I just couldn't get on with it... and this post is further reminder that I need to read me some Angela Carter. I even recommended her to someone today, despite not having read any.

    I've often wondered whether the Provincial Lady would make for a good adaptation - being so light on plot, it could be tricky. Hmmm...

  2. I don't know Simon, I think it could work but probably only in short bursts. I'm sure I've sat through worse. If you do start with Carter can I recommend 'The Bloody Chamber' - delightfully short stories...

  3. Fun idea! I would like a whole series please rather than one novel: Miss Silver Investigates based on the Patricia Wentworth mysteries. Would be wonderful to give them something better to do than ruining good Agatha Christie plots!

  4. That's an idea I can get behind too. I have a few Miss Silver books but haven't managed to finish one yet. Must try harder. The Georgette Heyer mysteries would make good television as well for the same sort of reasons.

  5. Oh yes Georgette Heyer - have often thought the same! Not everyone enjoys the Miss Silver I know - I just find them favourite comfort reads.

  6. On very first thoughts Miss Buncle's Book - off to think some more...

  7. I have always commented in my reviews that some of the books I read would make good Sunday Telly. But when asked - I cannot think of any!

    Nothing like setting your self some challenges is there?

  8. Rambling Fancy - I've generally started the Miss Silver mysteries full tilt, read about 20 pages and then petered out. Not her fault but mine. Next time I pick one up I'll finish it, she is after all exactly the sort of writer I generally adore.

    Joan Hunter Dunn - Miss Buncle's Book would be a nice one too. I can almost see it when I half close my eyes.

    Jo - when I started to think about what was meant to be a list of 10 I gave in at 6. Says everything about me I think.

  9. I agree with Joan - Miss Buncle would be wonderful - a bit Miss Marpleish I reckon?

    Illyrian Spring would be quite good - a bit like Enchanted April crossed with A room with a view. I nfact, I think some more of Elizabeth Von Arnim would be great, if quirky.