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The Unfilmable Novel


I am unreasonably excited to see the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Is it because Gatsby is one of my favorite novels? Because Baz Lurhmann is brilliant? Because Leonardo DiCaprio makes me swoon? Mark me down for “All of the Above.”

Actually, most of all, I can’t wait to see how this novel comes to life on the big screen. It contains some of the most cinematic scenes I can think of—one of my favorites is the first moment we meet Daisy, in a swirl of white curtains—but I’m not sure how it will translate to film.

Which makes this question, posed by GalleyCat’s Jason Boog, all the more interesting: what novels should NEVER be filmed? Are there any? Or is everything up for adaptation?

Off the top of my head, certain novels depend so much upon their form and structure that translating them to film might strip away their very essence: Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s Madeline is Sleeping, Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days. Yet a novel I would have labeled unfilmable—David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas—is scheduled to hit the big screen later this year.

So tell us: Is there such a thing as an unfilmable novel?


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Join the Discussion

  • I think books relying heavily on internal monologue would be difficult film subjects. Proust’s Remembrance Of Things Past would be one example. Joyce’s Ulysses would be another. Hubert Selby’s The Room would be absolutely impossible.

  • Lee Thomas

    Agreed, Thomas. Also, highly experimental fiction in which the narrative structure itself is hard to pin down – like Witold Gombrowicz’s Kosmos, or many of Barthelme’s stories.

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