Hollywood seems to be fresh out of original ideas. Almost every movie that’s being released these days is a remake, a sequel, or an adaptation of a book. Thank goodness for the novel writers who are keeping those film makers in business!
When it comes to these book-to-movie adaptations, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I almost always prefer the book version. (There are exceptions: the Nicholas Sparks movies are great, though I haven’t liked any of his books, and the Disney versions of old classics are almost always better than the originals.) But even when I know the movie won’t measure up to the novel, I like to experience both book and film in order to make comparisons. It’s fun to point out the similarities and differences, to see how closely my own ideas for a character line up with the casting, and to get a more clear visual for fantasy books like the Harry Potter series.
It’s always my preference to read a book before I see the movie. However, a handful of my favorite films are based on books that I’ve never read. This gap in my reading life prompted me to include a book that’s been made into a movie in my reading challenge this year.
I had a difficult time settling on a book to read for this category. After a few false starts, I eventually decided on Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. I fell in love with this movie when I saw it a few years ago, but hadn’t gotten around to reading the book since it’s surprisingly hard to find. It isn’t available at any of the libraries I’ve visited, so I’ve had the book on an Amazon wishlist for over a year, just waiting for the price to drop. Eventually I accepted this was one book I would need to buy at full price. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can say unequivocally that it was $10 well spent!
Miss Pettigrew is a middle-aged governess without a job and nearly without a home. Her life takes an unexpected turn when her employment agency accidentally sends her to the residence of Delysia LaFosse, a glamorous young lounge singer with too many beaus and not enough restraint. Hilarity ensues, and much to the surprise of both parties, Miss Pettigrew spends a long, eventful day helping Miss LaFosse untangle her complex love life. By the end of the day, both women have formed new ideas on love and friendship, and neither will ever be the same.
As indicated by the title, the entire action within the story takes place over a single day, but what the novel lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in charm. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is brimming with witty banter, quirky characters, and all manner of endearing ridiculousness. At times I had trouble keeping up with the rapid pace (a problem exacerbated by the book’s unusual formatting), but the momentary disorientation added to the quirky tone and didn’t keep me from chuckling my way through to the end. I also found the book’s adorable illustrations to be a fun touch.
There is a great deal of alcohol and sex in this book—surprising for a novel published in 1938, but it does make the story feel quite modern. This is one classic that could certainly never be classified as stuffy or pretentious!
Having now experienced this story in both novel and movie format, I must say that I enjoyed the book much more. The movie maintains the book’s tone but changes key points in the plot, and I liked the book’s version so much better. I’m glad I saw the movie first, though; even though it wasn’t as good as the novel, it set the tone for me and gave me some great mental images of the characters and setting. Plus, I don’t know that I would have appreciated the movie if I had watched it after reading. Still, this is a movie/book combo that pairs quite well!
My Rating: 4.5 stars.
OTHER BOOK I CONSIDERED FOR THIS CATEGORY
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott: I’ve seen and loved a few movie versions of Little Women, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading this childhood classic. Confession time: I actually started to read Little Women as my pick for this category and abandoned it after the first few chapters because it just wasn’t holding my interest. I will probably pick it up again in the future when I’m in the mood for a slower read.
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo: Les Mis (the Liam Neeson version) is my favorite movie AND it’s my favorite musical, yet the book’s length intimidates me. Several trusted sources have told me to skip the book, but I feel like I owe it to this beloved story to at least give it a chance.
Life of Pi, by Yan Martel: This is the only book on this list whose corresponding movie I haven’t yet seen. I’ve heard such good things about the movie and plan to watch it, but I’ve been told I should read the book first.
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell: As with Les Mis, I haven’t tackled this one due to its length. However, my mom (who has great taste) insists that it’s amazing and even better than the movie, so I do plan to read it. . . eventually!
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffeneger: I watched this movie a few years ago, and while I loved it, I remembered thinking there were some questions left unanswered and hoping the book would fill in the gaps—I guess I’ll have to read it to find out.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker: The Color Purple is such a powerful movie. I’m curious to see if the book carries the same emotional impact—if so, I will need to have plenty of tissues on hand while I’m reading.
What are your thoughts about book-to-movie adaptations? Do you tend to prefer the book to the movie or vice versa? What’s your favorite adaptation, and what’s one that surprised you—in a good way or bad?