Conversations With Friends: Why A True Fan Of A Book Will Never Watch The TV Adaptation
Let me start with a disclaimer, although the disclaimer is actually at the heart of this whole piece: I haven’t seen any of the new BBC adaptations of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends. But that’s the point – I don’t want to.
why? Well, I loved the book, you know.
I read a proof version of this just before it was published – this version is now dog-eared and water-damaged (like any true reader, I like to do it in the bath tub). It was my first encounter with Rooney’s peculiarly lilting style: her prose is poetic and unwinding, unraveling down the page like a banded stream of consciousness, but the action – the action, if you will – is sparse.
I always feel like Rooney is a writer who achieves that unique goal of captivating you while at the same time giving very little – not much happens, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Conversations With Friends is a “quiet” book. So does Beautiful World, Where Are You – her latest film, which I adored, although I’d have a hard time telling you much about what Eileen and Alice (the two main characters) actually do.
The same goes for her second novel, Normal People, which I also loved. And I watched the TV adaptation of it, which is why I’m so determined not to repeat my mistake with Conversations With Friends.
I couldn’t avoid Normal People – it came out during the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. I spent most hours of the day (and night) wide awake on a narrow bed in my spare room, feeling both wired and frustrated; animated yet stifled, just like everyone else. I’ve never watched so many movies, so much television in my life – especially not at three in the morning. I was just as weird as you. Neither of us was okay.
I had nothing else to do, plus it felt like madness not to watch the program everyone was talking about. I had raved about the novel for so long that friends and family kept texting me, “The book you were talking about is on TV!” I really couldn’t help it. But do I regret it now? Yes.
My reasons aren’t groundbreaking, the same complaints have certainly been repeated before, but watching Normal People just hammered them home. Once you “see” the book on the screen in front of you, you can no longer “unsee” it. It becomes the reality of the book; the characters inhabited by the actors playing them (in the latter case, the obsession with Connell’s necklace became one of the main talking points – but I can’t remember a simple necklace having impressed me that much while reading the book, have I? ).
video of the day
When I think of normal people now, I don’t picture Connell and Marianne as I used to picture them, I picture Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones; both nice to look at on screen but not remotely the people I had in mind before I saw it. Ditto for the setting: I’ve only been to Ireland once, so apart from Rooney’s description of the fictional village of Sligo I had nothing to go by – and my own imagination. And that’s what made it so special.
This is what makes reading so special overall; the point is that it stimulates the imagination, that it evokes a vivid, inner non-reality. The world that unfolds in our minds when we read a novel may be set in outer space or a dystopian steampunk landscape (high five to my fellow die-hard sci-fi nerds); It can be filled with dragons and talking trees, or take place on gloomy battlefields. It can be gilded and steamed according to atonement; it can be bleak and desolate (The Road), it can rush from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The point is, it’s yours. No matter how many precious hours you devote to a novel, it is yours. The characters are yours alone, the setting – perhaps a dusty library – is permeated with your own scent. Their footprints are those left like ghosts in the grass of an 18th-century mansion. Watching the TV adaptation of a book you’ve fallen in love with only ruins the magic.
Nothing excites people more than arguing about what makes a good or bad reading process, as my former colleague Rupert Hawksley found when writing this article about his belief that we “owe it to the authors,” every single book , which we’re starting to finish — and if you disagree, that’s okay with me. It’s your world, as (I’m sure) every author intended.
But beware TV writers: I want you to leave the really good books alone.
Find your own stories – stop copying ours.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/conversations-with-friends-why-a-true-fan-of-a-book-will-never-watch-the-tv-adaptation-41653666.html Conversations With Friends: Why A True Fan Of A Book Will Never Watch The TV Adaptation