My friend Lorelei and I set aside a day each week for creative activities. One of our projects was to write a screenplay for a throm-com (thriller-romantic-comedy—yes, we coined the term). We soon realised we were doing much more time-wasting than planned. For example, Lorelei might ask: ‘What would a dreadlocked counsellor working in a nursing home be called?’ A solid hour of listing names would follow, before we’d settle on ‘Eric’.
So for practical reasons, we decided to retire our pens and find a novel to adapt into a blockbuster instead. So I launched into a reading list with adaptation in mind.
1 Jennifer Crusie, Manhunting
I pitched my theory to Lorelei: in literature, ‘genre’ is a bad word. Romances get banished to a section where their covers of passionate long-haired people are quietly inspected by female geeks, and are ignored by bookish snobs (like us). But genre in film is perfectly acceptable. Some of the biggest box office successes have been rom-coms. Everyone (in the ‘motion picture industry of Australia’) has been blind, I told Lorelei. Because, like fools, they have ignored the romance section, overlooking some gem just waiting to be adapted into the next Notebook.
Jennifer Crusie is a well-respected romance writer, so, with gusto, I got Manhunting and prepared to fall in love. Our heroine, Kate Svenson:
… was a damn good management consultant, and she’d made lots of money. It wasn’t her career that was bothering her, it was her empty personal life.
Her ‘beautiful apartment full of exquisite French Provincial furniture’ meant nothing, because she was ‘thirty-five and not married’. Meanwhile, Jake Templeton is a cowboy-hat-wearing slob. He could be making a fortune as a tax accountant, but has chosen to mow the lawn on his brother’s golf resort after a relationship breakup. Kate decides to go to a golf retreat, to meet the millionaire of her dreams. Instead she meets Jake.
Crusie lost me at ‘Boy, you sure don’t see sunrises like this every day.’ (page 26). I was really irritated. Why wasn’t Crusie a great writer? More importantly, why wasn’t I a great writer so I could do my own romance writing? I hated myself and the world. Almost more than I hated Kate Svenson and Jake Templeton.
2 Pablo Neruda, Love
To get myself back in a romantic mood, I went to a book of poems I discovered in Year 7.
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
At the time, this poem thrilled my growing interest in sex. I wished for someone to think of me the way Neruda thought of his woman. ‘I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body’, I wanted my classmate Tom to say to me. But he not only didn’t say that, he also said ‘no’ when I asked him out. He was thirteen, and didn’t care about the four-eyed tall girl, who would for several years fill her diary with Neruda-like poems about him.
3 Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
I hadn’t seen either film version of Lolita. I knew Nabokov himself had written the 1962 screenplay, and Stanley Kubrick had directed it, so I got it for inspiration.
When it started, my jaw dropped. Was Nabokov tripping? He hadn’t put the most important part in! The first two paragraphs of the book are brilliant, and clearly MUST go at the start of any adaptation of Lolita. They encapsulate Humbert Humbert perfectly and explain his wretched obsession with Lolita.
I was outraged for a while, until I finally realised something that had somehow eluded me: people who write about love write for reasons of their own. And we read about love for reasons of our own. I tailored that sexy Neruda poem specifically to my fantasies about Tom with the mushroom haircut. And Jennifer Crusie’s words may hold special significance for her fans.
So I decided that books should not be made into films. Because someone will inevitably be disappointed. Because, to quote Virginia Woolf (from her essay ‘How Should One Read a Book’), when reading, you should ‘take no advice, follow your own instincts, use your own reason, come to your own conclusions.’
So an adaptation is, in the end, just an interpretation, and sometimes, your interpretation should be kept to yourself, even if you are Vladimir Nabokov, writing a screenplay of your own novel, Lolita.
Anyway, I am reading Lolita again.
And this is the narration that should have come at the start of the film:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Sofija Stefanovic is a Melbourne-based writer and filmmaker. She is currently teaching at The School of Life Australia. Follow her @sstefanovic (and she’ll let you know about various things, including the writing-walking-tour-of-Melbourne she is running with Lorelei Vashti.).