Should you read a book before seeing the film?

An article in The Guardian recently, ‘Should I read the book first?’, prompted me to respond, more accurately to shout back; ‘Yes!’. However that’s a fruitless way to give my opinion and I didn’t feel that I needed to write a letter. Said article was a discussion about future adaptations to a film format.  But I fear the worst.

I have never seen a film which improves on the book, usually the reverse. I can name only one film that was of equal merit; it was ‘Shutter Island’ with Leonardo de Caprio. I was reading the novel in view of a discussion I was taking part in with regard to the virtues of both.  However, the brilliant  ‘High Rise’ by J G Ballard, a dystopian novel, was made into a ridiculous and objectionable farce in the film version. For obvious reasons, a film is unable to replicate the subtleties of the descriptive language, which was the case here.

In the next few months I will be reading ‘The Light Between Oceans’ and flicking back through ‘The Girl on the Train’ in time for our book group discussion.  The latter, I hear, has been set in New York when originally the girl was a London commuter. As I have many reservations with regard to the novel, I’m not worried that it will be ruined!  And I will make sure that I read M.L. Stedman’s book in advance.

Is it my imagination or are there more plays and films being adapted from novels? I cannot believe that’s the case and I certainly hope not. They are distinct art forms, and should stay that way.

Yet seeing an adaptation of the classics, is a different matter and for many people is a good way to start. I frequently am encouraged to read or re-read; ‘Bleak House’ most recently. The first BBC version of ‘War and Peace’ many years ago, took me to Tolstoy for which I’m eternally grateful.

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