Adapting books into movies is by no means a new concept, and when it’s done well — “Gone with the Wind,” “A Clockwork Orange” — it satisfies both moviegoers and devotees of the original book. When done poorly — “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” “The Scarlet Letter” — well, let’s just say I’m not sure Demi Moore’s career ever recovered from the latter film.
In honor of summer blockbuster season, here are nine great books made into movies. Hopefully the silver screen does these stories justice (with the exception of one that we already know didn’t deliver)…
It is 1947, and Dr. Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall. The family who owns the home is struggling to maintain the sprawling estate; the patriarch is dead and the oldest son is suffering from post-traumatic stress after serving in World War II. Faraday begins to be summoned more frequently to treat the family and the hired help; he even finds himself strongly attracted to the daughter, Caroline. This isn’t a love story, though: it’s a ghost story, as the house is full of dark corners and strange occurrences. In postwar Britain, social class is rapidly crumbling, and as the family also begins to crumble, the story, along with the house itself, becomes ever eerier. (The film, starring Ruth Wilson and Domhnall Gleeson, will be released in August.)
Bernadette struggles as a mom in her upper-class Seattle neighborhood. There’s very little about her privileged, crunchy life that she seems to enjoy — except for her teenage daughter, Bee, who is left to piece together Bernadette’s odd life when she suddenly goes missing. Told through various narrative devices (emails, school reports, etc.), “Where’d You Go Bernadette” is a humorous, outrageous look at parenting, stifled creativity, and the daily nuisances that can seem so egregious when one lacks perspective. (The film is scheduled for 2019 release and stars Cate Blanchett as Bernadette.)
The fourth book of the “Millennium” series (beginning with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and the first of the series not written by creator Stieg Larsson. Having died in 2004, Larsson’s estate now controls the series and hired Lagercrantz to continue the saga of Lisbeth Salander, anti-heroine and hacker who exacts revenge upon men who hurt women. In this book, she helps her old friend Mikael Blomkvist solve the murder of a colleague who left behind a son who isn’t that different from Lisbeth. The novel is full of the suspense and plot twists that you’d expect from this series. (Remember when Daniel Craig was in the movie version of “Dragon Tattoo”? What happened to that series? The new movie stars Claire Foy and will be released in November.)
Loosely based on real events that occurred in Peru in the mid-1990s, “Bel Canto” starts with a soirée in an anonymous country that is attended by high-level diplomats, esteemed businessmen, and a star opera singer. Toward the end of the night, terrorists invade and hold the party hostage: and this is where the story begins. Though there are a few scenes of fast-paced action, most of the novel focuses on the cast of characters, hostages and captors alike, and the relationships they develop while trapped together. (Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe star in the upcoming film adaptation.)
The true story of Conley’s upbringing in an ultra-religious household and experience of being sent to conversion therapy after his parents found out he was gay. While his family and community see Conley as being afflicted by a disease, and try to get him to reject himself, Conley actually finds himself stronger and happier, and remarkably loving toward everyone in his life. The uniqueness of the story comes from his ability to write his family in an understanding, loving way. The memoir drags a little at times, but is overall an uplifting reminder to love your people for who they are. (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe star in the film, set for September release.)
A short and quick read, “The Sense of an Ending” is all about how our misperceptions can impact the course of our lives. Tony Webster lives a quiet, uneventful life; he is retired, divorced with one adult daughter. When an old girlfriend’s mother leaves him a small amount of money in his will, he is forced to revisit some unpleasant events in his past and ultimately realize that he was wrong about so many things. The book has a dreamy, philosophical quality that actually makes the surprise ending all that much harsher and, well, surprising. (The film adaptation, starring Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling, came out in 2017.)
Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner in an upscale Amsterdam restaurant. Over the course of their multi-course meal, terrible secrets are slowly revealed to the reader — the most pressing of which is that their sons, the two cousins, have done something horrible that’s left the entire country in shock. This story is not suspenseful, but still hard to put down, as each terrible fact is finally explained. (The movie stars Richard Gere and Laura Linney and came out in 2017.)
Lehane’s novels have been adapted for screen before to great success, including “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island.” “Live by Night” follows Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police officer, as he climbs his way up the mafia food chain to become a highly successful rum-runner during Prohibition. The novel spans almost his entire lifetime, from Boston to Miami to Cuba and back again, in Lehane’s trademark direct prose. It’s like a Greek odyssey in 20th-century America, made all the more interesting by Lehane’s attention to historic detail. (The movie starred Ben Affleck and came out in 2016. As is usually the case with Affleck vehicles, it didn’t do very well at the box office. But the original book is fantastic!)
Rachel Chu arrives in Singapore to meet her boyfriend Nicholas’ family, only to discover that they’re not the humble, provincial folks she envisioned. They’re rich, and not just rich, they’re crazy rich. Suddenly she must spend the summer navigating a high society that’s not just foreign to her … it’s, literally, foreign to her. And everyone’s got an opinion about the “basic” American-born Chinese girl who Nicholas has shown up with. You’ve definitely read this plot before (girl is out of place; boy’s family disapproves; ex-girlfriend complicates things), but the international setting and cultural insights — not to mention Kwan’s hilarious writing — make the trope shine anew. (The film stars Constance Wu and will be in theaters in August.)
More from Make It Better:
- 9 of the Best Beach Reads to Pack on Vacation
- 4 of the Best New Cookbooks to Check Out This Summer
- Best-Selling Author Emily Giffin’s Guide to a Weekend in Nashville
Danielle McLimore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has worked in book publishing since 2009. She lives with her husband, two sons, and a very misbehaved dog. She proudly supports the Center for Reproductive Rights.