Some Books Should Never Be Made into Movies Part II
THE PRIVATE EXPERIENCE & Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
At this year’s International Festival of Authors in Toronto, novelist and screenwriter Tom Perrotta (Election, The Leftovers) said something I keep thinking about. He noted that the fundamental difference between films and novels is that the one is seen on mass, while the other is experienced privately. I’ll go a step further and suggest that not only are books experienced differently than movies but even within books themselves you can subdivide: there are books that are more interior, more private, and those that are more public. Many great books don’t work as movies because they are of this more private variety. The books I see of the more public ilk are more epic, more extroverted, East of Eden, again, comes to mind, but so too does something like The Help. These are stories we share, books with themes, Oprah Winfrey chosen, Heather Pick(ed), book club-friendly books that somehow lend themselves to communal response. There’s a reason they so often become movies. There’s a reason why To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies are picked year-in, year-out as classroom reads. They are books about issues and thus give us what to discuss. It’s the stories we can’t so easily discuss, stories related to shame and hurt and vulnerability, stories of grief and loss, these stories are not so classroom discussion or book club accessible. Books like Arundahti Roy’s The God of Small Things or Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood typify this second category of literature.
Look at Murakami’s fifth novel. Here’s a story about unrequited love, about longing, about depression and suicide. Not exactly cocktail party chatter, now is it? What Norwegian Wood is, beyond being such a stunning work for its rare ability to retain a lightness of tone despite its dark themes, is a private novel not just on account of its choice of themes but for the quiet and delicate ways in which those themes are conveyed. Throughout the narrative characters engage in mostly one-on-one conversations about sadness and death, they engage in sexual situations that are as much about love and intimacy as they are about pain and loss.
Click Books Not Movies II for the rest of this piece.