TIFF Books on Film | TIFF connects booklovers with brilliant cinema!

Host Eleanor Wachtel. Photo courtesy of CBC.

Host Eleanor Wachtel. Photo courtesy of CBC.

Heads up book lovers and film buffs! The Toronto International Film Festival is launching a new Books on Film series tonight, February 11. Hosted by Eleanor Wachtel of CBC’s Writers and Company, this monthly event at TIFF Bell Lightbox features filmmakers and authors in an in-depth discussion about the art of adaptation.

Can a film ever live up to the book? No easy feat, and some booklovers would say it’s impossible. Personally, there are some Poirot adaptations I’ve enjoyed more than the book, thanks to the brilliance of David Suchet. Same with the Dexter Morgan series and, quite possibly, 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

TIFF Books on Film 2013 Schedule:

*All films are on Monday evenings at 7 pm.

February 11— Hilton Als (author and New Yorker theatre critic) on The Innocents

March 4 — Richard Russo (Pulitzer Prize–winning author) on Nobody’s Fool

April 8 — Lisa Cortés (music and film producer, driving force behind success of Def Jam Records) on Precious

May 6 — Christopher Hampton (award-winning screenwriter and playwright) on Atonement (which he adapted to screen)

June 3 — Ted Kotcheff (filmmaker and executive producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) on The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

June 24 — Deepa Mehta (Canadian filmmaker) on Midnight’s Children

Which ones am I excited about?

Film still from The Innocents. Photo courtesy of Photofest.

Film still from The Innocents. Photo credit: Photofest

The Innocents is based on one of my favourite horror stories ever — Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. And to have the opportunity to listen to a critic from The New Yorker discuss it — amazing opportunity! Tonight!

Film still from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Photo courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Film still from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Photo credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

I love Mordecai Richler, and I remember viewing a clip from Joshua Then and Now in a university Can Lit class. Duddy Kravitz is a classic.

Film still from Atonement. Photo credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

Film still from Atonement. Photo credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

I remember reading this book and feeling absolutely cheated by the ending. Still, I’ve heard good things about the movie, and am definitely interested in seeing it on the big screen.

How to subscribe:

Subscriptions to the series are available for $153 for TIFF Members or $180 for non-members (prices include tax). Based on availability, single tickets may be released closer to the event. Subscriptions are on-sale at tiff.net/subscriptionseries.

Additional bonus for book lovers: The first 100 subscribers will receive a complimentary copy of each book featured, courtesy of Random House Canada.

First film is tonight – The Innocents, based on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.

Review | Lucretia and the Kroons (Novella), Victor LaValle

Being young didn’t protect anyone. Horrors came for kids too. [p. 163/4]

For twelve-year-old Loochie, the horror is that her best friend Sunny is dying from cancer, and no matter what she does, she is helpless to save her. I liked the beginning of this novella — all Loochie wants for her twelfth birthday is to celebrate with Sunny. Unfortunately Sunny is undergoing treatment and so is unable to attend the party Loochie’s mom throws for her. I like LaValle’s delicacy in depicting the mother/daughter relationship — Loochie’s unwillingness to believe that Sunny’s condition is irreversible, contrasted with her mother’s gentle suggestion that she make friends with other girls (somewhat insensitive, but still well-intentioned). I’m a sap for stories about people dealing with loss, as you can see in my highly emotional review of A Monster Calls), and LaValle’s beginning made me think this novella would be emotional as well.

Unfortunately, it falls apart for me once the story really gets going. Lucretia and the Kroons is about Sunny going missing, and Loochie having to travel to the mysterious apartment 6D to rescue her. 6D is ruled by the Kroons, creatures who have reportedly used crack (according to Loochie’s older brother) and have parts of their faces missing. The Kroons appear mostly as zombie creatures who, for some unknown (at least for most of the novella) reason, keep kids in their lair forever, and Loochie believes they now have Sunny.

There are several ways this story could have gone, and I was hoping for a masterfully crafted horror tale that also works as a metaphor for Loochie’s fear at losing Sunny. Instead, I thought the story was a mess. It was confusing, unable to work either as a full on horror piece or a realistic story. As Loochie explores 6D, part of her wonders how a park or any of the other locations and structures she encounters could exist inside an apartment unit. Her confusion is understandable; unfortunately, LaValle never develops his world fully enough for the reader to grasp it either. I eventually just had to ignore all the references to 6D being an apartment unit (the entire “real”/realistic world) just to make sense of the story’s geography.

Loochie’s search for Sunny and her attempts to outrun the Kroons also felt very disjointed. I can understand Loochie not having a plan on how to locate Sunny, but there didn’t seem to be a logical sequence either in her search. I could follow the thread up until she entered 6D, then the events just seemed haphazard. As well, because we didn’t really understand anything about the Kroons, beyond the fact that they looked like zombies, there was never a sense of real menace about them. It is possible to make a frightening monster without much detail (again, see A Monster Calls), and I can understand Loochie not knowing exactly why the Kroons are scary. However, there just isn’t enough about them for the reader to grasp, which makes this reader, at least, not care.

The story progresses as expected, and once we get touches of the real world, particularly about Sunny’s condition, the story strikes some minor emotional notes. But it’s difficult to lose oneself in the deeper layers of the story when the basic framework itself is so unclear.

The last couple of pages, giving a glimpse into Loochie’s life at thirteen, make sense only to remind us that this novella is a prequel (or companion piece, as it’s called in Goodreads) to LaValle’s novel The Devil in Silver. Perhaps reading that one will give me a better appreciation of this novella. As a stand-alone, Lucretia and the Kroons may have some highlights, but the central action was just too problematic.


Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for sending me the e-gallery of this book via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Hollow City, Dan Wells

Michael Shipman is crazy. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Michael sees Faceless Men and gets splitting migraines whenever a cellphone rings. So when we see the world through Michael’s eyes in Dan Wells’ The Hollow City, we know not to take it at face value.

It takes great talent for an author to get into the mind of someone who’s had a psychotic break from reality. Wells takes this to a whole different level by having readers mistrust his narrator from the beginning, yet slowly begin to question this mistrust. Some authors are able to make psychologically disturbed characters sympathetic and their views understandable, usually through eloquence (Lolita, A Clockwork Orange) or through comparison with a villainous “sane” world (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Wells however  offers actual clues and details that make us wonder if Michael is, in reality, seeing Faceless Men, and if there is some rational, physiological reason for his adverse reaction to electronic devices.

Hollow City begins as a tragic depiction of an unbalanced mind. Michael’s hallucinations are as real to him as reality is to us, and the intensity of his fear at things we view as ordinary (cellphones, TVs, hot water faucets) inspires sympathy. His condition, particularly his obsession with Faceless Men, makes him a prime suspect in the investigation of serial murderer The Red Line Killer, whose trademark is slicing his victims’ faces off. Worse, Michael has lost two weeks’ worth of memory and is himself unsure if he is the Red Line Killer. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be not to be able to trust yourself, and when Michael begins to doubt the reality of people around him, some of whom he loves and depends on, he becomes even more isolated.

Then the story takes a completely different turn when Michael’s hallucinations start making more sense. We’re never quite sure if Michael’s perceptions are turning out to be real or if we too have been sucked into his mind. But this does open up a science fiction/horror story angle to the plot. It’s a thrilling ride to the end, and I was as desperate as Michael to find out what, exactly, is going on. Wells never gets as complex as China Mieville or as seductive as Vladimir Nabokov, which he could have done given his premise, and this is perhaps the reason Hollow City didn’t blow me away. The murder mystery that drove the plot started out compelling, but wasn’t really developed, and the big reveal regarding the murderer was fairly obvious and anti-climactic. That being said, I was definitely taken by surprise by the other big reveal, the reason behind Michael’s hallucinations. I love that Wells took a big, unexpected leap with that, and while the ending seemed a bit rushed, given the build up, it made sense. After all the uncertainty, and all the wondering about where Wells could possibly be taking this story, the ending satisfies. A good, solid, fast-paced read.