Neglected Books and Movie Tie-ins

September 10th, 2008

As I read Nicholas Lezard’s review of the new Pushkin Press edition of Stefan Zweig’s novel, The Burning Secret, I thought, “I think I saw this movie.” And sure enough, thanks to IMDB, I quickly confirmed my suspicion: it was filmed in 1988, under the same title, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer and Faye Dunaway.

About a month, ago, my wife and I watched the DVD of “Separate Lies”, starring Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson. It’s a perfect sort of movie for tired married people to watch on a quiet weeknight: human drama, a bit of tension, a murder, good acting, and well-dressed characters. Not great art, but certainly fine craft. But one credit caught my end at the opening: “Based on the novel, ‘A Way through the Woods’, by Nigel Balchin.

I recognized Balchin’s name from this page–his World War Two novel, The Small Back Room, is mentioned a number of times. Its story was also, incidentally, filmed in 1949, a Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger production. A Way through the Woods proved, upon a bit of research, to be a 1951 novel motivated, according to Clive James in what is perhaps the most extensive work on Balchin easily acccessible, “The Effective Intelligence of Nigel Balchin“, in part by the break-up of Balchin’s own marriage due to infidelity.

Just this year, Persephone Classics , a model publisher of neglected books, had the biggest break in its history when Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a novel by Winifred Watson that Persephone rescued from oblivion, was made into a film starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams, thereby raising the book’s visibility and sales considerably.

I won’t start excavating the many other examples available of film versions of neglected books–but I will recommend paying close attention to the writing credits: you never know when a good (or even bad) movie will lead you to discover an even better book.

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