Thursday, March 4, 2010

Twists of the Screws

Day 23 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project.

Mike is reading L. P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, written in the 1950s and set in 1900, before the two world wars. It is a romance and a coming-of-age novel, with mystery and trouble, innocence and awareness. Might remind some readers or filmgoers of Atonement by Ian McEwan.

I first encountered The Go-Between as a film with Julie Christie and probably missed much of what was going on. Same thing happened when I saw The Innocents, the truly scariest film I ever saw as a child, with Deborah Kerr, in black and white, based on Henry James’s short story “The Turn of the Screw,” which I then read to try to figure out what the heck was going on. It’s actually a long short story, a novella. The children are go-betweens in this tale, too. Reading it did not help me understand it any better, but it wasn’t as scary.

Same thing happened when I read Lolita, the wonderful, icky book by Vladimir Nabokov. I saw the black-and-white film with Shelley Winters and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, read the book and was even more confused. Sometimes I think I am an idiot. (I can’t read plays, either. I have to see them. Or be in them.)

Then one of my college students had the same kind of reaction to Lolita, the book. What was all the fuss about? Meaning, where was the sex? She also watched the film, the newer version. This was part of a research paper assignment on banned books. Tell us why it was banned, what was the outcome of the attempt to ban it, whether you agree or disagree, etc. People really got into it, I am glad to say. In her presentation, my student stressed the lollipop on the cover of the film box.

I should pause here to mention that Rebecca, who is reading Her Fearful Symmetry AND Last Night in Twisted River, is also listening to Reading Lolita in Tehran on CD, or she was when I first asked the question, “What are you reading?” She’s had a couple sick kids and a sick self since then, so I hope she has been resting and pushing fluids, as they say.

Her Fearful Symmetry is by Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, the first book we read in my local book group. I had met Audrey briefly one summer at Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago, but in her other capacity as a paper maker and paper artist. I enjoyed that book, have not seen the movie version, and hope to read this latest eventually. It appears to be a ghost story, which takes us back to James.

Both Henry James and Edith Wharton spent some time with ghost stories, an ever popular genre, rich with psychological possibility and money-making potential! James had kept ambiguity in the story on purpose, and Truman Capote added another layer of psychological ambiguity as one of the screenwriters for The Innocents. (By the way, a screenwriter for The Go-Between was the notoriously subtle, twisty, rich, and confusing Harold Pinter.) “The Turn of the Screw” was then remade into a completely different film, The Others, with Nicole Kidman, now a sort of psychological thriller ghost story horror film with a war context.

Ah, literature and film, the twists and turns.

Ah, this blog, the twists and turns and screwiness.

1 comment:

Julie Kistler said...

I'm not a big ghost story reader (too easily scared) although I did try "Turn of the Screw" when I was young, and like you, pretty much didn't get it.

I did get "Lolita," though. I was always sort of appalled by its moral ambiguity, even as I enjoyed the writing. Nabokov is the one writer I can think of who is just fabulous in two languages. I am astonished someone can write that well not in his native tongue.

I have to be honest -- I pretty much hated "The Time Traveler's Wife." I think I've told you this before, that its message of "Life is random and painful and then you die" seemed overplayed and unappealing to me. I'm sure it says something dire about me that I prefer the escape, humor and order of Lord Peter Wimsey's world to the frozen feet and pointlessness of "The Time Traveler's Wife."

I guess I'm not a Nihilist after all. Just a Wimseyist.