Wednesday, July 12, 2023

The Novel and the Movie — part one

  In a recent review of Patrick DeWitt's novel The Librarianist, Steven Beattie gives what seems at first read a seemingly positive assessment of the DeWitt work. The novel is filled with self-consciously flamboyant characters -- apparently an artistic strategy to throw into stark relief the considerable blandness of the novel's protagonist: the lonely, aging librarian Bob Crane.

Beattie: There are earlier indications of deWitt’s “stealth absurdism” in the character of Miss Ogilvie, Bob’s first boss at the library. A vicious harridan who prizes nothing so much as silence, Miss Ogilvie is a comic delight, a character on the margins of the story who fully inhabits every scene she appears in. Despite her powerful presence, however, neither she nor Connie’s father — nor, for that matter, the bombastic Ethan — fully detract from the focus on Bob and his bookish interiority, which carries “The Librarianist” forward in a spirit of what might be called insouciant melancholy.


However, there are problems with literary flamboyance, and one of them it makes a narrative hard to believe. And, near the end of the review, Beattie seems to acknowledge this -- albeit with the criticism slipped quietly, librarian-like, into a drawer: "Of course, the section at the Hotel Elba goes to show the extent to which an ordinary life can be deceptive, though this comes at a cost on the level of emotional resonance. The aching heart of “The Librarianist” is a piercing seriocomic character study of isolation and abandonment. Would that deWitt had left his more flamboyant tendencies in the drawer for this one."


Whether The Librarianist is truly successful as a work of vital art, it is certain to sell well: almost all of DeWitt's novels have become best sellers, and many of them adapted to movies, which  only augments DeWitt's celebrity as a writer. The movie-making process is quite different from the novel-writing one, and DeWitt emphasizes this in a September 26/18 interview he did with Library Hub. In the interview, DeWitt emphasizes the considerable difference between bringing a novel manuscript and a film to completion: "I didn’t really understand how difficult it is to get a movie made. It took eight years, and so many people worked so hard over the course of those years to get the film made. It makes me thankful for the relative simplicity of life as a fiction writer where you sit down and do it."

 However, by the time the movie of the The Sisters Brothers was complete, DeWitt was already experienced in the film industry; in 2011, he wrote the screenplay for a movie entitled Terri. He was conversant with both mediums. He was also aware of the dangers of movie adaptation. In a September 21/18 article in Publishing Perspectives, DeWitt apparently had misgivings about the possibility of his story being distorted unrecognizably. John C. Reilly, one of the starts of the movie version, had to reassure DeWitt that DeWitt's original narrative vision would be respected: "In a recent news conference at the Toronto International Film Festival, Reilly was quoted by Jessica Wong of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, saying, “We know what can happen in this process of books becoming movies. Often, they get twisted into an unrecognizable shape … We said, ‘Pat, we’ll try our very hardest to make a great film out of this. We’ll find the very best people we can. Please trust us,'”"


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