Must we burn the novel?

For discussion of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel Låt den rätte komma in
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gattoparde59
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Must we burn the novel?

Post by gattoparde59 » Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:05 pm

I have been trying to think of way to pose this as a question, because I have noticed that there are quite a number of people who have very strong objections to certain passages in the novel and even the entire novel as a whole. Lacenaire for example has written what I estimate to be tens of thousands of words on the subject. ;)

I guess the best way to pose this question is to ask whether we should accept the judgment of the film adaptation: that what we see in the film represents the “fillet” of the novel and the rest should be discarded as literary offal. Do you think the film adaptation is a vast improvement over a poorly written, and in some cases offensive novel, or do you think the novel can stand on its own merits, separate from the film adaptation? Feel free to comment, I won’t hold it against you. :)

The lazy thing to do now would be to post my question and then “watch the fun begin,” or not as the case may be, but I should make an effort to explain my feelings about the novel.

I like the novel as a whole. If this story calls on us to feel compassion for Oskar and Eli, I think the same holds true for the other characters in the story as well -- even for Håkan and the bullies. For me the large cast of characters that appear in the novel make a nice compliment to Oskar and Eli, rather than a distraction from the main event.

There are sexually explicit passages in the novel that many find offensive, especially the ones involving Håkan and child prostitutes. To be frank, these passages did not bother me much. They do provide a rather large hint about what Eli’s life has been like for all those years before he met Oskar. What is described is horrible, but it is different for me reading these things in a book, and a work of fiction at that. If I was called upon to be critical I would say those parts of the novel strike me as being adolescent -- the sort of things I have been hearing since I was, well, an adolescent and still hear from my otherwise elder colleagues. :roll: Oddly, the author is most explicit when describing deviant goings on with Håkan. When describing more pedestrian characters like Lacke and Virginia the novel actually becomes quite discreet. Perhaps the author has erred in giving us “too much information” in some scenes, sex becoming a distraction rather than an artful addition to the novel. Fans of the film version of the story should note that the very first lines we hear in the film are taken from the notorious rape scene in James Agee’s Deliverance. In the case of this scene from Deliverance (which left very little to the imagination) perhaps sex also distracted from the main point: the degradation and destruction of a human being.

I'll break open the story and tell you what is there. Then, like the others that have fallen out onto the sand, I will finish with it, and the wind will take it away.

Nisa

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a_contemplative_life
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by a_contemplative_life » Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:09 pm

I like both. I think they compliment each other in a way that few book/film adaptations do. You can watch the film and enjoy it, and if you want to dig deeper, can go read the novel to find out more. I have been re-reading the novel lately and have come to a deeper appreciation of it than I had the first time I read it. I think they are both great and I wouldn't change a thing.
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by TΛPETRVE » Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:31 pm

Well, I see the film as vastly superior, as it feels a lot less "pulpy". I wouldn't go as far as to delve into organized biblioclasm, but nonetheless, I'd rather be buried together with a copy of the movie than the book.
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by gary13136 » Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:35 pm

No, we don't burn the novel. I like the novel; probably a little better than I do the movie. Sure, parts of the novel I find to be gross. But I'm a big boy now; I'm not going to go out and act out what I've read. I'm not going to go crazy because Hakan tries to rape Eli. The only real complaint I have is that I believe a little more of the novel should have been used in the movie. But that didn't happen, and I haven't developed suicidal thoughts because it didn't. :lol

No, we don't burn the novel. Besides, what society every became a better society by burning books?
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by lombano » Sun Mar 14, 2010 1:16 am

The issue of book vs. film is, for me, not that straightforward. If it is a question of craftsmanship, I think there can be no doubt the film is far superior. For me at least, the leads' acting, the film's visual beauty and Soderqvist's work leave me no doubt. One could dissect the novel to find to find a myriad of parts one could object to on technical grounds. But as I've said before, craftsmanship is not all. If it were, Ruben Dario's poetry would be among the finest literature ever written, but I personally have little interest in reading nonsense about a duke called Job and a dog called Bob. Of course you can wreck a good idea by bad craftsmanship, there are reams of writing with that problem. But these are just the very extremes.
Ultimately I prefer the book over the film, even though as I've said the film seems clearly better-crafted, and even though some of the plot changes seem to me improvements (no undead Hakan, less on sidestories, Eli trying the candy). But as characters, I like book Oskar and Eli better than the film versions (I'm not criticising the acting, I'm criticising the characters), partly precisely because they're less likeable. The book's more aggressive, more playful, ultimately kinder (when it comes to actions) Eli seems more human, and therefore less remote, than the film's more mysterious, sombre Eli. The book's more deeply troubled, more uncharismatic, more violent but also kinder Oskar I also like better. Also, the horror in the book (minus undead Hakan), for me, as I've said before, is what keeps the love story honest - the contrast is a big part of what makes both the horror and the love powerful, and the horror is strongly toned down in the film. There are also a few scenes I miss from the book, and of course the film has defects of its own. Maybe I'm more inclined to literature than to cinema anyway, a number of things I like in the book would not have translated well to the screen (like the kiss under the balcony), and a novel is generally a better medium for character development than a film, but these reasons for me tip the balance in favour of the book.
Perhaps I should explain more about my tastes: For me to like a work of art, with some exceptions I have to feel it expresses something about the human condition. If it's too otherworldly (this includes character that are too perfect), it doesn't work for me - which is probably part of the reason why I don't usually like horror, but I far prefer Berenice to Lovecraft; for me for example The Masque of the Red Death would be much better if the mysterious reveller were a simply a diseased courtier wearing no mask. My favourite genre overall is psychological realism (Dostoyevski and some of his countrymen, Stendhal, Camilo Jose Cela), even when there are clearly fantastic or at least ambiguous elements (Cortazar, Juan Rulfo and some other 'magical realism' writers). If the characters are too unworldly, or I just can't really empathise with them, then I can't care about them and the book is lost on me. Actually, one thing I'm not that happy with is Eli's Rubik's cube-solving abilities, in both book and film. Eli being a very intelligent child is good, but a genius in the strict sense is somewhat too remote. I prefer to imagine Eli has solved very similar, simpler puzzles before, with plenty of help or after a very long time and a lot of effort, and thus is a very intelligent child applying things she has learned over time, rather than a Ramanujan.
I have no moral objections to either book or film, though I would not give the book to a child. I very nearly tossed the book away and gave up reading at the library scene, but that was because I found what was happening revolting rather than because I found the novel morally objectionable. I don't think these scenes are distracting, even though they have no direct bearing on the main story; they are an important part of the horror.
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by PeteMork » Sun Mar 14, 2010 2:35 am

lombano wrote:......But as characters, I like book Oskar and Eli better than the film versions (I'm not criticising the acting, I'm criticising the characters), partly precisely because they're less likeable. The book's more aggressive, more playful, ultimately kinder (when it comes to actions) Eli seems more human, and therefore less remote, than the film's more mysterious, sombre Eli. The book's more deeply troubled, more uncharismatic, more violent but also kinder Oskar I also like better. Also, the horror in the book (minus undead Hakan), for me, as I've said before, is what keeps the love story honest - the contrast is a big part of what makes both the horror and the love powerful, and the horror is strongly toned down in the film. There are also a few scenes I miss from the book, and of course the film has defects of its own. Maybe I'm more inclined to literature than to cinema anyway, a number of things I like in the book would not have translated well to the screen (like the kiss under the balcony), and a novel is generally a better medium for character development than a film, but these reasons for me tip the balance in favour of the book.
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lombano wrote:...... Actually, one thing I'm not that happy with is Eli's Rubik's cube-solving abilities, in both book and film. Eli being a very intelligent child is good, but a genius in the strict sense is somewhat too remote.
To me, Eli solving the Rubik's cube just emphasizes two of her character traits. Since I am convinced that solving the cube takes patience and tenacity (or peer pressure), rather than genius, it is only natural that she would be able to solve it, given that these are both important aspects of her personality. Besides the cube being a conversation starter, its possible that JAL wanted specifically to emphasize those parts of her personality by having her solve it.
We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain. (Roberto Bolaño)

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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by moonvibe34 » Sun Mar 14, 2010 4:11 am

there will be no fire started here. i saw the movie first and ofcourse loved it. when i read the novel it gave me the deeper insight into the characters and story that i was craving after the movie. after all only so much content can be squeezed into the time restraints of a motion picture. for me the two go hand in hand. i love re-reading parts of the novel just as i do re-watching scenes from the movie.
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by TheVoxHumanus » Sun Mar 14, 2010 5:48 am

Yes!

:lol:

Not really. I just prefer the movie to the book. I think the description of the movie as being the "fillet" of the story is accurate, but I wouldn't call the rest "offal". Maybe...flank steak or stew meat.

All of my criticisms of the book have come down to personal taste regarding preferred flow and content. I'd not try to argue those things from an objective standpoint.

The act of exploiting a child's vulnerability, especially sexually, is not something that sits well with me (or I imagine with most people). To spend these moments intimately close to the events occurring is very uncomfortable for me. I recall being angry that I couldn't help Eli while it was happening, and I recall being angry at the author both for making me feel that way and for including that scene at all when it seemed to serve no purpose in the story. I already knew Eli had been horribly victimized. It seemed sadistic to me when I read it, both for John to do that to Eli and for John to do that to me.

Strangely enough, I had little problem reading the descriptions of Eli's torture and mutilation in flashback. I was removed enough from the situation to take it in without being overwhelmed by it. Horrible? Absolutely...but it had already happened and was told as a memory. The fact that I was in the room while Eli was being raped was just too much for me though. That probably says something very good about the general quality of John's ability to place me in a situation...so kudos there!

I'd posted in the "Zombie Hakan" thread that I maybe could agree with the choice of its inclusion for the purposes of casting into sharp relief Eli's situation, but I honestly just don't know right now. I still stand by my agreement with the final "message" of the book, but parts of the journey there made me angry.

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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by Aurora » Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:09 am

My views are similar to Vox's regarding comparisons between the film and book, basically I really enjoyed the film and I liked parts of the book.

To elaborate there really wasn't much of the film that I didn't like, there were a few things that I would've 'tweaked' and a few scenes that I would've liked to have seen included, but otherwise it was close to perfect.

However to me the book didn't reach anywhere near those standards, while it told the same story (with several additions) it wasn't as an enjoyable experience as watching the film was to me.

I'm not going to criticise JAL for that, rather I'd say it's because horror isn't my prefered genre and I'm always going to have a problem with a rape scene described (or shown) in graphic detail.

Personally I don't think that book burnings are ever a good idea, although I should qualify that by saying that not everything in print (or on the 'net) is worth reading ;)
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Re: Must we burn the novel?

Post by drakkar » Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:45 am

I like both equally good, and refuse to hold one better than the other.
Just to start with the conclusion, LdRKI is - to me at last - very much about emotions. In this respect, the two are indistinguishable to me. The film medium and written medium are very different, so I refuse to hold the film and the novel against each other on plot details - it's the end result that counts.

JAL wrote the screenplay about four years after the novel. Does that count? I think it does. I'm now reading his latest book, Human Harbour, for the second time (partly because Covenant learns Swedish by reading it and I'm his sparring partner, partly to prime myself to May 18, when Lilla Stjärna is released).

What strikes me this second time, is how damn well the book is written, and how much JAL has matured as a writer. Compared to LdRKI the side plots are more integrated, and the reader is primed on what to come in a VERY subtle and elegant way. Beautiful, nothing less. Why I fuss about HH? because it reminds me about the LdRKI screenplay - in the way it, compared to LdRKI book, is more composed and focused - and ELEGANT.
So the film isn't just the work of TA but also a matured JAL.

IMHO, the LdRKI book has it's strengths in it's huge intensity and suspense about he main characters. It is personal to JAL, and that shows. This compensates for the book's "jerkiness" with the side plots. (Even if I suspect that HH is equal personal to JAL - it's dedicated to his father).
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- Karl Ove Knausgård

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