The Lit Club: Book to Movie Adaptations

 

[Image description: On the right, image of the book cover for 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' next to the movie adaptation cover. Between the two covers is written 'The Lit Club: November 2021'. On the left, image of the book cover for 'American Gods' next to the series adaptation cover. Between the two covers is written 'Book to Movie adaptations by Emily and Kseniia'.]

 

Edited by Emily Bourne



Hello, bookworms! This month’s Lit Club theme is Book to Movie Adaptations. Enjoy!

 

If you want to watch (we made a video review for October) our most recent edition click here, or all of our archived editions, click here

 

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Book Rating: 4/5

TV Series Rating: 3/5


American Gods is a weird book. Neil Gaiman’s own introduction labels it as “big and odd and meandering” and for a good reason. The whole story of this big boy is based on multiple (upon multiple) misdirections and grifts that we as readers see through the eyes of the protagonist - Shadow. A big man in his 30s who keeps to himself as he serves the time for armed robbery and some (well deserved) bodily harm to his co-robbers. And this is a great example of the first time we are set up. We think Shadow to be this stereotypical violent inmate and then we are introduced to what actually kept him sane during the three years in prison: the tender love for his wife. 


Unfortunately, their love is not enough to keep Laura safe and Shadow is given parole after her untimely death in a car accident. Numb with grief and full of aimlessness, he boards a plane heading home, only to be greeted and subsequently given a job by a man who knows too much about him. This man calls himself Mr Wednesday and Shadow notes that one of his eyes is “a darker shade than the other”. This is when we get a rundown of what this book is actually about. Gods and Mythos that came with people to America. 


Mr Wednesday’s introduction paints a pretty damning picture of Gaiman’s style here. To enjoy this novel to its full extent you absolutely have to have a fairly good understanding of ancient mythology and the various pantheons of gods. With each new character introduced there is always this game of giving us just enough detail to hint at the god we are meeting but not make it too obvious, and I can see how it may become frustrating to some people. In the same vein, I can’t believe we don’t get to see any Greek or Roman gods represented in the book. I can understand why Odin is one of the main characters but is Bilquis, the queen of Sheba really more recognisable than Athena or Zeus?


The show sidesteps this criticism by introducing Vulcan in the first season, as a meditation on the culture of war and guns. Unfortunately, what the show doesn’t do well is consistency. The first season was stellar: scene by scene recreations of violence and sex were mixed with reimaginings of iconic characters and sets. First season showrunners (Green and Fuller) knew exactly what they were doing when they changed the way Shadow and Technical Kid meet. Spoiler: it is graphic and not for the faint of heart. However, with their departure (and departure of some notable actors) American Gods the show lost a lot of its lustre. The two subsequent seasons feel more like a barebones adaptation in a cheap theatre than a lush world of Niel Gaiman adapted to screen.


American Gods is one long con (unfinished one in the show). It will try to obscure important details from you every step of the way, just as Mr Wednesday does to Shadow. We are not meant to know everything about everyone, especially not at the beginning, and it can be one of the more frustrating things about reading or watching American Gods. Both the book and the show require you to believe or at least pretend to believe in gods walking among the streets of winter bound America. And if belief is something that doesn’t come naturally to you, maybe save some time and pick up Coralline (book or movie) instead.


Review by Kseniia.



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We Need To Talk About Kevin

Book rating: 5/5

Film rating: 3/5


“Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” - Khaled Hossein


A novel described as being about a boy who commits a High School massacre, but unsparingly details the miserable aspects of being the mother to a child you don’t like. 


Eva is the mother of the harrowing Kevin, and despite not being the obvious villain of the story, she definitely divided reader/viewer opinions. I found her character to be an intelligently written, real mother. Something I noticed more in the film than the book, was the portrayal of her life before having children - she was independent, well-travelled, thrill-seeking and purposeful. 


The film shows when Kevin is conceived, and to me, it shows the frivolous nature in which people decide to have children. The excitement that Eva and Franklin - Kevin’s parents - got from seeing each other after being separated for a long period of time, and the lack of protection against pregnancy, seemed to be the very reason they chose to have a child. It was only after the deed was done, did Eva begin to question her decisions. This says to me that she was feeling fulfilled before children, but the thrill of the moment and patriarchal ideas of women needing to have children to be whole overcame her, and when realising what a child would take away from her - she became resentful. Not being ready for children, or having them when it’s not your calling, is a common mistake people make - it’s one you can’t undo, but it’s not usually fatal. In this case, it was.


The reason I love Eva’s narration in the books (which I thought was done horribly in the film, but we’ll get to that later) is because she portrays motherhood in a way I haven’t seen many novels do. She says the things she’s thinking, no matter how cruel her thoughts may be - because they are true, and where others would restrain themselves from saying such things, Eva let’s rip. 


Now, to Kevin. Kevin is described by his mother as an inherently evil child from birth, existing just to spite her. In both the book and movie, Kevin is equally disturbing: exhibiting anti-social and manipulative tendencies from a very young age, growing more violent and cruel as he grows up, even exhibiting his uncomfortableness with himself on the outside by deliberately choosing to wear children-sized clothes as a teenager. Kevin’s progress up to his massacre is much more evident in the book, as it is detailed in chronological order by Eva, whereas in the film, the order is all over the place and does nor have the distinct mark of it being told from Eva’s perspective. 


Kevin’s relationship with his parents couldn’t be more different. Kevin loathes Franklin, thinking him not intelligent enough to know his true personality. Unfortunately, Franklin is the “perfectly dutiful” (clueless) dad, effortly bonding with Kevin over “boyish” things. He (seemingly) fails to see through Kevin’s embarrassing act of ‘father/son bonding’. Kevin plays on the idea of the father/son bond and the ‘boys will be boys’ explanation that fathers and sons have used for centuries to excuse being little assholes. It’s probably fair to say that the reason Franklin always defends and supports Kevin is to negate the damage that Eva is inflicting on him by being so obvious about her disdain for her son.


Franklin’s mistrust of a mother’s perspective and his unconditional belief that his son could do no wrong is his downfall. The finger always lands on a woman. Franklin clearly does not know his son at all, as he defends his innocence in a string of creepy events and what he labels as "boy will be boys" mischief. Whereas, Eva understands her son very well, but nobody wants to talk about what you do when you suspect your son is a psychopath that your wife never wanted to have in the first place. Although Franklin’s character can be quite unlikeable for always defending Kevin, the reader feels a pity for him still - it’s enraging watching him be on Kevin’s side always, but it’s also sad that Kevin would manipulate the person who probably loves him most. Yes, Franklin enabled a boy who turned out to be a murderer, but all he wanted was to make his son feel protected and loved. 


 The overarching question of the story "Whose to Blame?". Nature or nurture? Would it all have been different if Kevin had felt his mother’s love? Whether you believe it was nature or nurture, a combination, or neither, it’s interesting to see how the other characters in the book react to Kevin’s crime. Why does Kevin get all the glory while Eva takes all the blame so willingly? Doesn’t it take two parents to raise a child? Are we all not responsible for our actions - especially such premeditated acts of evil? 


Ok, moving away from analysis and appreciation of Lionel Shriver’s writing, let’s talk about why I would rate the book much higher than the movie. The movie didn’t have enough time for the nuance, for the build-up, for the small-details that really made the story. Additionally, I just didn’t like the direction of the film - the story was deliberately unstructured, sections of the past and present coming back in jumbled sequences, the circular structure and because the focus felt much more like morbid symbolism rather than the banality of their lives until the worst thing happened. I wish it had just focused on delivering the story, wonderful in itself, the way it was written - rather than trying to make it artsy and symbolic. By structuring it this way, it took away the great narration of Eva in the book - this narration was important because it highlighted that this story was told from her perspective. Her taint on events was evident in the book, and it made her somewhat unreliable, meaning that the way she perceived Kevin’s actions may have been biased.


Nevertheless, the movie is still very good for someone who hasn’t read the book, and for someone who has, it’s interesting to see it played out on screen. 


To finish off, I’d like to include this review from the Wall Street Journal,

‘We Need to Talk About Kevin is not a treatise on crime prevention but a meditation on motherhood, and a terribly honest one’.


Review by Emily Bourne.