Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Sarah Waters Effect: Literary LGBT Books That Would Make Excellent Television

Since Tipping The Velvet caused jaws to drop nation-wide and Sarah Waters became a household name (at least, in the households that contained a closeted gay or lesbian teenager), her novels have been delicious fodder for adaptation: while it would normally be enough that she is a master storyteller, the lesbian relationships portrayed in novels such as Fingersmith and The Night Watch (showing tonight on BBC2) add an altogether more salacious edge for television.  Earlier this year, Matt Smith starred in the Christopher Isherwood life story Christopher And His Kind, suggesting a new trend in literary, queer drama.  Below are five suggestions for the BBC's next saucy, brainy romp.

Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett
On the strength of this novel, I feel bold enough to say that Bartlett is the male Sarah Waters: Skin Lane's 1960s setting is an urban labyrinth where old-school repression jostles against post-war decadence on the same commuter train.  Mr F, the protagonist, is a tortured loner who develops an obsession with his young apprentice.  The backdrop of the fur industry would make this adaptation visually stunning.

A Spot Of Bother by Mark Haddon
This book isn't quite LGBT; it's a family tale that revolves around the chaos caused by a wedding.  One subplot is about son Jamie, who is dumped rather suddenly and cruelly by his boyfriend and spends the rest of the novel coming up with ways to feel better (one attempt includes an inadvertently hilarious hook-up).  This adaptation could be as raunchy or as family-friendly as the BBC like, as the source material is warm and funny enough to entertain without having to titillate.

The Spell by Alan Hollinghurst
Hollinghurst's prize-winning The Line Of Beauty was a fantastic reimagining of Brideshead Revisited in the Eighties, and the BBC miniseries perfectly captured not only the beginnings of the AIDs crisis, but also the reign of the Iron Lady and the fall of the untouchable upper classes.  The Spell is only a slightly less ambitious read, following the doomed romantic adventures of Alex, an uptight professional who visits his ex-lover Justin and his new partner Robin for a weekend, only to fall in love with Robin's twentysomething son Danny.  The clash of country living with the drug-fuelled nightlife that Danny revels in would make this a colourful show, if nothing else.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
Part of the Canongate Myths series, Girl Meets Boy is a modern retelling of the legend of gender-swapping Iphis.  Smith's prose is on a par with that of Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan and any other modern writer you care to name.  Gender swaps have made for some dodgy TV entertainment in the past, but the story here is strong enough to carry the concept.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Venice.  Napoleon.  A girl with webbed feet.  The lush imagery and period setting of this magical realist novel would provide a beautiful and fantastical backdrop for an adaptation, which follows the life of Villanelle, a curious creature with a thirst for life and a craving for the love of a bad woman.  A miniseries version would perfectly compliment the numerous Dickensian films the BBC churns out each year, while adding more flamboyant touches such as a man with a glass eye and a seductress who keeps the hearts of her conquests in a jar.

What do you think?  Who should be the next LGBT author to sky-rocket now that the BBc have more or less exhausted Sarah Waters's back catalogue?  Suggestions in the Comments section please.


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