Saturday, 13 October 2012

Eating My Words

Some time ago I got all het up about television programmes being made from novels. I now
have to retract everything I said then. Well, no, perhaps not everything - I still think a decent novel is not well-served by being turned into a television programme, for all the reasons I outlined at the time. However, I have discovered one advantage of television adaptations of excellent novels - that is, they may introduce you to a novel you might never otherwise have read.

This is what seeing the first episode of Parade's End, the BBC's adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's trilogy of novels set around the time of the First World War did for me. I had been vaguely aware of these novels but, until I watched - and was annoyed, but intrigued, by - the beginning of the BBC's attempt to convert the books to the television screen, I'd never got around to actually finding them and reading them.

Watching Benedict Cumberbatch, (with, for some reason, peroxided hair plus, in some scenes, visible roots), gurning ridiculously in the central role, and Peter Hall's daughter-  actually I have to admit doing a slightly better job than she usually manages - playing his wife, it became obvious that somewhere underneath all the pretty scenery and excellent costumes there really might be a great piece of fiction. Therefore, I went to Amazon and found the full set of  books available for Kindle for 99p (oh no, I wuz robbed - getting that link, I see they're now only 77p).

They are marvellous. I've just finished them and, as a result - and as always when I've become really absorbed in a great work of fiction - I feel bereft. Thank you, BBC, for nudging me in their direction. Sorry you wasted your money making episodes two, three and four. The books are, needless to say (but I'm going to anyway), a hundred times better than the shows.

11 comments:

  1. It's always good to hear about good books - and I'd never heard of this trilogy before. If it's set in Edwardian England then it'll feature the most excellent frocks; but I hope the BBC didn't make it like Larkrise to Candleford, with everything (including the pigs) spotlessly clean and women wearing hats too wide to get through the doors.

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    1. You should talk to Steerforth about spotlessly clean pigs

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  2. I thought that the BBC adaptation was rather vapid, as if someone had dramatised the York Notes instead of the actual work. It wasn't entirely Stoppard's fault. Nobody in British television seems willing to produce anything longer than six episodes.

    A historian friend who has done some work for the BBC has had several meetings with production companies. They're all terribly keen on having him write and present, as long as he sticks to just three episodes. He was even asked to do a "history of warfare" in three hours. He declined, deciding that the fee wasn't worth the ridicule of his peers.

    Parade's End would have worked better as 13 low-budget episodes. The fast-forward five-episode version looked beautiful, but I didn't care who anyone was.

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    1. I agree about the adaptation - I do blame Stoppard quite a lot. I used to admire him so much but now I think he is the George Bernard Shaw of our time (I think GBS's plays are very boring, full of bon mots which clunk). Parade's End would have worked better as a book, if only anyone had the energy to read. Telly is meant for entertainment - oh no, I'd better not start off on that tack again.

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  3. Have just DLd the Kindle edition [A$.99] entirely on your recommendation. This had better be good. There's a whole buck riding on it....

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    1. I wait to hear your verdict - you could have bought a loaf of bread with that dollar.

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  4. Glad to hear of another convert to Parade's End. It is an absorbing read, isn't it?

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    1. It is - I had read The Good Soldier already, which I also liked very much, despite doubting the narrator could really be quite as self deceiving as he is (but then thinking that was part of the whole weird horror of it - ie he wasn't, although he was trying to be, or something). Parade's End though has converted me to stream of consciousness, belatedly - no-one does it better than FMF, I decided.

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  5. In case you're not aware of it, this "trilogy" actually has a fourth volume, 'The Last Post', which I understand divides opinion. I liked it.

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    1. I didn't know, thank you. Although do I want to read it? Will I be able to resist? Will it spoil it all? I like your name.

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  6. The Last Post is very different from the first three, although much of the same style shows up (just in different ways). I recommend it, just not as highly as the first three. As I mention in my post on the book, it holds a confusing place in the series since it was later spurned by FMF (add the usual note about spoilers in the post).

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