Monday, April 18, 2011

What film, what novel do you wish you'd written?

A few days ago at Go Into the Story Scott Myers asked what screenplay viewers wished they'd written. For me that's easy: Galaxy Quest. It does everything I want a film to do: moves fast, blows shit up, flings in a couple of jokes, makes me feel, is light and knowing and kind, and, once you accept the basic premise, makes absolute unswerving sense. The characters are true to themselves. The acting is good. The sets and costumes are great. A practically perfect genre package.

If you'd asked me twenty years ago, I would have said: Die Hard. Again, practically perfect in its genre. A blast (yes, a pun) from start to finish. (I wish I could say the same for the subsequent films in the franchise.)

The day someone does a sword-and-pony epic as good as either of those two, I'll transfer my allegiance. (I loved Lord of the Rings, all three films, but there's a fair amount in them I'd fix, whereas GQ and DH are, to my mind, unimprovable.)

By the bye, speaking of sword-and-pony fun, George R.R. Martin lists his ten favourite fantasy films over at Geeks of Doom. We agree on many (Ladyhawke!) but by no means all.

Anyway, I got to thinking: what novel do I wish I'd written? And the answer isn't nearly as simple. I know an awful lot more about novels than I do about films. Writing novels is something I'm really, really good at. When I look at a novel I compare it to perfection, not others of its kind. Consequently, I see flaws in even the very best novels, in every genre (I count litfic as a genre; it has its tropes, its conventions, just like f/sf and crime fiction).

So, for example, I love LotR--but Tolkien gets a bit stiff here and there, and there's way too much poetry and song for my taste (Tom Bombadil and the ents both drive me crazy). Brazzaville Beach (William Boyd) is a tour-de-force of POV and structure, but, deep inside, leaves me unmoved. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson) is wickedly funny, playful, moving and hilarious, but not something I wish I'd written: in the end, its foundation is memoir. (I could say the same for Rubyfruit Jungle, with the added note that Rita Mae Brown is probably to blame for the now-clich├ęd lesbian coming out tropes--see, for example, the arc of Tipping the Velvet.) Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, starting with Master and Commander, is brilliant. His specificity and generosity, his particularity and brio blow me away. But every now and again his lens trembles and the focus wavers and the burning pinpoint of light spills into a wash of self-indulgence. (And the last few novels in the series are, to put it politely, thin.) I used to hold Mary Stewart up as the queen of noble-sword-and-pony novels (The Crystal Cave is the nest I crawl into when I need go away from the world) but sometimes the blue pencil in my head twitches. Then there's Mantel's Wolf Hall--which, like O'Brian, is fiercely particular and powerfully imagistic. But her POV choice is not wholly successful...

So it's not easy to point and say: There, that one. Wish I'd written that! How about you? What film or novel do you wish you'd written?

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here: