How to read the 2023 International Booker Prize longlist in Canada

2023 will go down as the year everyone’s International Booker Prize predictions were wrong. I was surprised not to see Mieko Kawakami, Han Kang, Yōko Tawada, or Sayaka Murata, and I was so sure we’d see the new Can Xue, Barefoot Doctor, that I shelled out nearly $30 for the ebook!

I love this list though. It’s the most accessible one I’ve seen in years, meaning that even in Canada, you can read the whole longlist ahead of the prize being awarded, if you want to. You could buy half the longlist right now from Canadian retailers. You could buy the whole longlist from Blackwell’s for $332.77 CAD.

These insights and more are available in my annual spreadsheet. It includes a bit of demographic info, but mostly helps you figure out where to obtain these books in Canada for the best price. My sources are noted, but generally, Canadian cover prices are from Glass Bookshop, library availability refers to Edmonton Public Library, and UK editions are from Blackwell’s. All prices are in CAD and include shipping. I didn’t bother linking to publisher’s websites this time, because for once, it’s not necessary.

I’m happy to see a nice range of languages (Tamil, Bulgarian, Catalan, and Norwegian, in addition to the usual suspects – but notably, no Japanese!) and a nice range of ages (the youngest writer is 35-year-old Amanda Svensson, while the oldest, and the oldest ever to make the list, is 89-year-old Maryse Condé – or is she 86, as Wikipedia claims?) though it’s skewing a little older this year, and very heavy on Gen X writers (seven out of 13).

I got a lot of traction (i.e. almost 100 likes) on a tweet complaining about the “creative” way book prizes present their longlists. The International Booker Prize gave us the courtesy of a text-based list, but even then, you have to click through to see the authors and translator names, so for your convenience, here’s your plain-text, detailed longlist*:

  • Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi, translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tiang
  • A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson, translated from the Swedish by Nichola Smalley
  • Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey
  • Pyre by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
  • While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
  • The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
  • Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov, translated from the Russian by Reuben Woolley
  • Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund
  • Standing Heavy by GauZ’, translated from the French by Frank Wynne
  • Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel
  • The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by Richard Philcox
  • Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim
  • Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches

And shout out to Bookstagrammer time4reading who posted her own simple list of books plus where to source them in Canada – she’s Toronto-based, so if your library or prefered bookstore is in TO, check her out.

As always, follow the IBP Shadow Panel for reviews and Eric Karl Anderson for a peek behind the scenes (he usually gets to go to the awards ceremony, I think!)

*Not seeing any official sources for the original languages so I took my best guess!

Felicia’s Journey from book to screen

This is not, technically, an entry in my very occasional series in which Rachel makes me watch a movie adaptation of a short story. First of all, Felicia’s Journey is a novel, not a short story, and secondly, Rachel had nothing to do with it – though I hope she takes this as a sign that she should read this book and watch this movie. 

But, much like the adaptations of Calm with Horses and Escape from Spiderhead, which Rachel did inspire me to criticize, the 1999 film “Felicia’s Journey” was flattened on its way to the screen. I continue to have the distinct feeling that filmmakers just don’t trust movie-goers to appreciate a nuanced story with characters who don’t fit neatly into “good” and “bad” categories, or to tolerate anything but a happy (or at least, hopeful) ending. 

This film fares a little better than the other two in presenting morally grey characters, and of the three adaptations, might be my favourite, for sticking to the plot (more or less), for keeping the bad guy pretty darn bad, and because it gave me some new insight into the characters. The other two mainly made me wonder what went wrong.

I came to Felicia’s Journey through Cathy and Kim’s “A Year with William Trevor” event. I wasn’t particularly drawn to this book (I’m not big on teenage-pregnancy-as-plot-point, and I talk enough about “journeys” at work) until I realized there was a Canadian movie adaptation, available for free on CBC Gem. Director Atom Egoyan is legendary here, and I’ve never seen any of his movies.

But first, the book. Based on the title and cover, I was expecting some kind of heartfelt family drama, but instead found a thriller. Or maybe a mystery. Not about Felicia – a good Irish Catholic girl getting knocked up, abandoned by the father, and rejected by her family is a tale as old as time, and the additional drama due to the father joining the British army is a tale going back to at least 1916. Joe Hilditch, though? At first, he’s presented in a very particular way – the way he wants to be seen – as a fastidious middle-aged middle manager who has a big appetite for food, but who otherwise lives quietly and correctly. He seems like the type of pleasant, older man that kids on TikTok would want to “protect at all costs,” until he meets Felicia, newly arrived in England and looking for her wayward boyfriend.

Hilditch appears helpful at first, suggesting where she could look for a young man in industrial Birmingham. But soon he’s following Felicia, and manipulating things so that he’s the only one who can help her. We learn he’s done this before, and clue in pretty quickly that he doesn’t befriend wayward teenage girls out of the goodness of his heart. But, if you had asked me why he does it, exactly, at page 50, or 100, or maybe even 150, I wouldn’t have known. The slow reveal and unravelling of Hilditch is shocking and mesmerizing.

The movie takes a more direct route to showing us what Mr. Hilditch is up to, and why. His house is full of relics, he wears outdated clothing, and drives a vintage car, all of which are pristine. He’s fussy at work and at home, a man who is forever stuck in the past, still trying to please his late mother, never quite measuring up. Bob Hoskins, who I’d only known as “the Roger Rabbit guy” up to this point, is great at portraying Hilditch as alternately smug and near cracking under the pressure. Elaine Cassidy as Felicia, who I barely recognized from The Wonder, gives a quiet and passive performance, which is as it should be. Flashbacks to her home life in Ireland are set to very generic Irish music, but the setting is beautiful, especially the ruins of Glanworth Castle, and provide a striking contrast to the bleak industrial landscape she finds in England.

I will never figure out why Felicia is wearing chunky platform sandals in the movie, though. That’s certainly not in the book, and I was exhausted just thinking about a four-months-pregnant girl clomping around in those all day. Period-appropriate for the 1990s, yes, and Felicia is pretty naive, but no real girl would do this!

But I digress. There are other, somewhat-more understandable choices we need to discuss. 

I will give the movie props for keeping a controversial part of the story, in which Hilditch coerces Felicia into getting an abortion. The film portrays this in all its ambiguity – Hilditch is probably right that this makes sense, but he does it for all the wrong reasons, and Felicia doesn’t come around after, and is suitably traumatised by what she’s done.  

But we lose a pivotal passage in the book, in which, after the abortion, Hilditch starts to see Felicia in a more sexual light (Madonna-whore complex, much?). The movie is almost entirely desexualized, actually. Hilditch is portrayed as some kind of voyeur, luring young runaway girls into his car for conversation, mostly, taping it all with a hidden video camera, meticulously labeling and cataloguing the tapes at home. This does translate very creepily on film, but in the book, Hilditch is an exhibitionist, not just driving the girls around, but flaunting them in restaurants and rest stops, taking sick pleasure in the whispers and stares (real and imagined) as passersby trying to puzzle out what relationship this middle aged man could possibly have with these teenage girls. Hilditch’s need to be seen as successful, sexually, is in constant tension with his need to keep up appearances (it’s always some out-of-the-way roadside diner, never anything remotely near his home or work). These passages are so creepy and depraved, and the videotapes have nothing on it. 

In the book, this actually comes to a head at the abortion clinic, where Hilditch simply can’t help calling himself Felicia’s “boyfriend” to the unamused clinic staff. Unable to form normal relationships, Hilditch is reduced to tricking strangers into thinking he impregnated a teenager.

And that brings us to the biggest change of Felicia’s journey from book to film. Why is Hilditch the way that he is? As you may have gathered, it is indeed because of issues with his beloved late mother, but the intensity of this revelation is dialled way, way down for the film. What becomes clear near the end of the book is so shocking and sad, it makes the reader question what they’ve read so far, and what the book is about in the first place. If you only watched the movie, or watched it first, you might not feel like something is missing, necessarily, but the book is just on another level here. I can’t quite figure out why Egoyan softened the blow for movie-goers, as he’s known for some pretty out-there stuff. 

The movie also brings things to a close too quickly. In the book, some Jehova’s Witnesses become entwined in Felicia’s, and therefore Hilditch’s life, and their constant questioning chips away at what’s left of Hilditch’s sanity, bit by bit, until he’s brought to a breaking point. It brings a psychological thriller aspect to the book. In the movie, this plot point is there, but it goes from zero to sixty in a single scene. Similarly, in the book, Felicia spends a harrowing couple of nights (at least?) on the streets, bouncing between shelters, store entryways, and squats, and making friends with all sorts of unsavoury characters. It takes her from naive to desperate. These b-plots (“journeys”, I suppose) are necessary for the end of the story to make sense, and to have emotional depth. I have to think these story elements were cut for time, which is unfortunate but (somewhat) understandable. 

The very end, and the sense of where Felicia’s journey will take her next, is not wholly changed, but it’s cast in a much more hopeful light. I can’t say a lot more, but it was the very final scene of the movie that inspired this post and my initial note to self was “they can’t keep getting away with this!”

They really can’t. “Shadow of Violence”, “Spiderhead,” and now (well- 24 years ago) “Felicia’s Journey” took dark, messy, stories and made them more palatable for film. Felicia’s Journey is still well worth the watch, for Bob Hoskins, for the sets, for the preserved line of dialog from the book in which he muses that “Mothers can be difficult”, which, indeed. But please, I beg of you, read the book too!  

Molly of the Mall by Heidi L.M. Jacobs

Jane Austen-inspired novels are so numerous and varied that they form not just a distinct genre, but many subgenres. There are alternate points of view, prequels and sequels, genre crossovers, and modern retellings. Then there are novels that don’t adapt or retell or modernize, they simply appreciate. Molly of the Mall by Heidi L.M. Jacobs is one of these, and because it doesn’t hold too tightly to the source material, it is much more than another Austenesque novel. 

Molly is a satire, a campus novel, a bildungsroman, and a romance. It’s an appreciation of Austen, but also of Woolf, Eliot, the Brontës, Hardy, Burns, and Daniel Defoe, among many others (Molly is named after Defoe’s scandalous heroine Moll Flanders, one of many delightful literary character names.) It’s also a celebration of Edmonton as a literary city.

Molly MacGregor is an aspiring “authoress”, studying English at the University of Alberta and selling shoes at West Edmonton Mall circa 1995. This is the era of card catalogues in the library and captive peacocks in the Mall – a far cry from today’s Edmonton, and far from where Molly wants to be. She finds Edmonton too cold, too bleak, and too bland a place from which to realize her literary and romantic ambitions. She spends much of her time in imagined conversation with her favourite authors and heroines, primarily “Miss Austen.”

Austen heroines don’t always have the most useful romantic advice, though. Upon spying her crush, Molly wondered:

“What would Persuasion’s Anne Elliot do now”? but then realized she would nod cordially, and proceed walking down the Mall, using her sensible millinery to prevent meaningful eye contact with a man not formally introduced to her. This might be why I so rarely summon Persuasion in my daily life decisions.

Austen’s oft-quoted writing advice, that “three or four families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on,” isn’t much help either. Molly laments that “coming from Edmonton was strike one for an aspiring writer.”

But Edmonton books are just as varied and diverse as Austen-inspired books, and as relevant to Molly’s interests, covering campus life (Michael Hingston’s The Dilettantes), retail ennui (Shawna Lemay’s Rumi and the Red Handbag), and West Edmonton Mall itself (the title story of Dina Del Bucchia’s Don’t Tell Me What To Do). There are even Janites in Edmonton: Melanie Kerr wrote Pride and Prejudice prequel Follies Past, and Krista D. Ball puts Lizzie and Darcy modern-day McCauley in First (Wrong) Impressions.

None of these books had been published in 1995, though. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, another of her literary confidants, Molly would have to write the great Edmonton novel herself.

Molly aspires to serious literature, with plans for a “watershed Canadian coming-of-age novel,” and a “historically accurate, gothic bodice-ripper set in Saskatchewan”, but this novel is a comedy. Molly’s modern-day woes and Regency-era sensibilities make for delightfully funny observations about subjects as diverse as academia, consumerism, and the dateability of Oasis’ Gallagher brothers. The Edmonton-specific details are a treat, and mall workers the world over will relate to the staff rivalries, tedious closing shifts, and ubiquitous Boney M. Christmas music.

The humour rarely misses, though Molly’s novelistic plans, complete with comparisons between classic literary tropes and their Canadian equivalents (Heroines and Heifers, Passions and Pastures) are really only funny the first couple of times. Much better are Molly’s flights of fancy about classic literature, such as this Middlemarch-inspired daydream:

Passing Mall Security, I imagined bursting, breathlessly, into their inner sanctum, declaring, “This is urgent! I must address the shoppers! No time to explain.” I imagine they’d scratch their matching shaved heads and then hand over the PA system mic. “Attention shoppers,” I would start, “I have been reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch non-stop for the past three weeks, and I must tell you this. After 593 pages, Will Ladislaw has just kissed Dorothea. What does this have to do with you? It has everything to do with you. This is literature’s finest kiss. Here, let me read it to you.”

All this satire is hung on a rather low-stakes romantic plot. Molly has many suitors, but they’re nearly interchangeable, except for the “turtleneck” (Molly’s term for her pretentious classmates) who makes unwanted advances and is never heard from again. One of her admirers is her own sister’s ex-boyfriend, but this is never addressed. This seems like a situation rife for conflict in a book that could have used more of it. 

The romance eventually comes to a neat conclusion, allowing the literary to take centre stage. Jacobs takes a real gamble in the last act, having Molly complete a year-end assignment on a “cheese poet” that is almost too outlandish, and too specifically Canadian, but she pulls it off. The details are best discovered by the reader, but it not only works as a comedic triumph, it also proves that Molly can indeed write from and about Edmonton, and that she doesn’t have to fall in with tired “nature and survival” CanLit tropes. A great Canadian novel can be about anything, even a shoe store in Phase III of West Edmonton Mall. It can even be funny.

2022 Year in review

Georges Croegaert, “Reading”, 1890 (source)

I read slightly fewer books this year (40) than the previous few, but given the fulfilment of my resolution to watch more movies (49, at least ten times more than any recent year, follow along on Letterboxd), I’d say I broke even.

I’ve heard it said that when it comes to resolutions and habits, it’s easier to stop something than to start; after all, what could be easier than not doing something? But it’s so much more fun to add more of what you love. That was my mindset this year, when I decided to add movies (back) into my life, which had unpredictable and wonderful consequences to say the least.

I’m not sure what I want to add in 2023. Writing, maybe? I didn’t post a single traditional book review this year. Much as I enjoy lighter and funnier writing about books, there’s something special about a real, formal book review. I recently discovered a review I wrote back in 2021, for a publication that never went forward (will post it here soon!) and remembered how much I like the close reading, the research, and the writing and rewriting process.

I also hosted a readalong for the first time in a few years, and while it was technically a bust (no one joined except my sister and brother in law!) it reminded me how much I love to immerse myself in a topic, and allow myself to follow various rabbit holes and threads.

Aside from books, I’m submitting a piece to a publication for the first time in a long time, about two subjects that are special to me: malls and food. I don’t really expect it to be accepted, but I’m getting the same buzz (and same frustration!) of over-researching and over-writing, in the hopes that I can pare it down into something readable.

So perhaps, if 2020 and 2021 were years of reading and survival, and 2022 was a year of pleasure and movies, 2023 can be all of those things and more, and I can write about them?

Anyway, here are my favourite books of the year and some light stats. I already wrote about my worst books of the year, a new tradition!

Top ten books of 2022

  • Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takamori (my hold on Life Ceremony is due in soon, thank goodness)
  • Larry’s Party by Carol Shields
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt (new book when???)
  • The Chiffon Trenches by Andre Leon Talley
  • The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarcuk, translated by Jennifer Croft
  • Either/Or by Elif Batuman
  • Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton
  • Quartet by Jean Rhys
  • A tie, because these are really short stories and only books for marketing/reading goals purposes: Foster by Claire Keegan and The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt

Book of the year

And resurrecting another Reading in Bed tradition, I hereby name my book of the year to be Either/Or by Elif Batuman. Hilarious, sad, and meta, Either/Or is both a realistic reflection of life in the 90s and a glimpse of a world that could only belong to Selin. I’m not ready to leave her behind and I hope it’s not true that this is it; Selin has two more years of undergrad left and I demand a full tetralogy! I knew this would be my book of the year when I read a very valid criticism that had to do with an inaccurate reference to an episode of Sex and the City, the sort of thing that would usually drive me nuts, and immediately thought “nope, Elif is allowed to do what she wants!”


  • 25/40 woman and nonbinary authors (more than last year and well represented in my top ten)
  • 9/40 in translation (bit more than last year)
  • 12/40 Canadian, much stronger showing than last year

Most Disappointing Books of 2022

Normally, I do a catch-all “year in review” post, and I will still do one, but, there’s been some anti-worst-books-lists discourse lately and we must push back. I haven’t even listed my worst books since 2018, so it’s high time.

Obscure for a reason

Obscure books that no one talks about and no one should read.

  • The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad. I was excited to read this near-future apocolytic novel set right here in Edmonton, and I did indeed recognize many locations, even in their dyspotian form, but the story was so thin, and the main character so wannabe edgy, and the premise was just stealing bits from every popular YA novel in the past twenty years. Having a character walk down Whyte Ave. was not nearly enough to make up for it.
  • Bitcoin Widow by Jennifer Robertson. Such an obvious cash grab, and yet I didn’t hear anyone talking about it, so was it worth it? Jennifer Robertson tells her side of the Quadriga crypto mystery, and asks the reader to believe that she is either incredibly naive or incredibly stupid when it comes to how her (late?) husband was financing their lavish lifestyle.

Crappy classics

At least I go to cross off two entries in the 1,001 Books list!

  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. Well I’m not going to tell you that a novel written in a time when “novels” weren’t really a thing is “bad,” exactly, but I was not enjoying myself. After a certain number of piss and shit jokes it all kind of blurred together.
  • The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. I’m pretty sure this book invented the “autofiction” genre. Ms. Stein has a lot to answer for. There are a few good one-liners in here but you have to wade through interminable pages of “this artist visited us, we visited this artist, this person was boring, this person was a genius” and it’s SO BORING.

Mainstream, Midlist, and Meh

Some recent-ish books that honestly weren’t terrible but did not live up to the hype.

  • Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au. Probably suffered from comparison to My Phantoms, which had similar themes but is just better in every way. This was totally forgettable for me.
  • Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum. I’m just really tired of horror books that use pregnancy and childbirth (or clear analogs) as their big, scary thing. Especially from male writers.
  • Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagen. This one actually had some great moments, and is great when depicting 1980s England and the burgeoning punk scene, BUT the writing was so overwrought. And the sudden pivot to the current day halfway through was… unwelcome. I can handle overwrought when it’s teenagers we’re talking about, but when it’s guys in their 50s…
  • Mouth of Mouth by Antoine Wilson. A Giller nominee, but I’ve also seen this in American best-of lists so it’s making waves… too bad I was so let down by the twist ending.

Classics Club spin #32

Forgive me bloggers, it’s been four years since my last Classics Club spin. This is the season though, I like to read a classic at the end of the year. There’s no theme for Spin #32, but the rules remain the same: pick twenty books from your Classics Club list (which of course I no longer maintain) wait till the random number is pulled (tomorrow) and read that book over the next month. Simple. You can use a theme, or do a classic “five books I’m dreading, five books I’m looking forward to” etc. but I’m short on time so how about a random number generator and the 1,001 Books list? Here we go:

  1. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
  2. The Information by Martin Amis
  3. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
  4. The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  5. American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
  6. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
  7. A Question of Power by Bessie Head
  8. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargos Llosa
  9. Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster
  10. Evelina by Frances Burney
  11. No Laughing Matter by Angus Wilson
  12. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
  13. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  14. Arcanum 17 by André Breton
  15. To The North by Elizabeth Bowen
  16. Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo
  17. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  18. The Talk of the Town by Ardal O’Hanlon
  19. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  20. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

So I’ve not even heard of twelve of these! And I may reserve the right to substitute another Frances Burney novel if I land on Evelina, just because I’ve read it somewhat recently. Though it was awfully fun. Check in tomorrow to learn my fate…

Nonfiction I read in 2022 and am talking about in November #NonFicNov

The same circumstances and reasons that prevented me from fully participating in Novellas in November meant I did not do the full Nonfiction November experience either, despite really enjoying it last year. I did read some though. Shout out to hosts What’s Nonfiction, Doing Dewey, Plucked from the Stacks, She Seeks Nonfiction, and The OC Book Girl for running extensive themes and challenges that offer something for everyone. Even a lazy blogger like me! Read on for brief reviews:

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Novellas I Read in 2022 and am talking about in November #NovNov

Due to circumstances and reasons, I have not had a particularly fruitful reading or blogging year, especially since the summer, or early August to be precise. Properly participating in blogging events is too much for me right now, so please accept this lazy Novellas in November contribution. It’s my favourite blogging event and has a long and storied history. Shout out to Cathy and Rebecca for keeping the #NovNov train going!

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle, 173 pages

I liked but did not love this one. It got a bit message-y at the end. The messages were important and resonated with me (violence against women, abortion access, religion, aging, disability) but it was all very heavy-handed. I loved Elena and loved the depiction of tense moments with her daughter on their annual vacation. Their interactions were difficult to read, in a good way (think Rachel Cusk, Gwendoline Riley).

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, 144 pages

Another strained mother-daughter relationship, further strained by travel, this made almost no impression on me. Sometimes a book can be a little too sparse. I think this was also going for a Cusk or Riley kind of a thing, but didn’t quite make it.

Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum, 94 pages

This little horror book has its moments but unfortunately I pictured the uh, creature, as Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also why are so many horror books about parasites, or something growing inside you that needs to get out…it’s all just pregnancy (remembers what it was like being pregnant and giving birth)… okay actually that does make sense.

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson, 192 pages

You ever finish a book with a shocking or twisty ending, and immediately see how the whole book was building towards it, but question whether a whole book needed to be written for… that? I enjoyed reading this but was expecting it to build towards something a lot crazier. Very “so, there was a plot twist. That don’t impress-a me much.”

If I get my act together, I intend to try the buddy read for Novellas in November, Foster by Claire Keegan. It has a recent film adaptation, The Quiet Girl, perfect for my movie era, though I don’t know if I can actually view it in Canada yet.

“Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders / Spiderhead (2022)

This is the second of a very occasional series in which Rachel makes me watch a movie adaptation of a short story. In the first, I watched an adaptation of “Calm with Horses” by Colin Barrett, a morally complicated and tense masterpiece of short fiction from his collection Young Skins. The movie, Shadow of Violence, got the look and feel right, but all the moral shades of grey became black and white. That, plus the needless addition of a romantic subplot, reduced the movie to more of a standard thriller, if elevated by the acting and cinematography.

For my second assignment, I watched an adaptation of “Escape From Spiderhead” by George Saunders, a dystopian cautionary tale in the vein of Brave New World, or more recently, Margaret Atwood’s Maddadam trilogy, first published in The New Yorker and also in his collection Tenth of December. I expected that this middling short story would be adapted into a middling thriller and I wasn’t wrong. But I was surprised by how closely the film’s choices mirror those made for Shadow of Violence, starting with the needless title change to plain old “Spiderhead”. From there, just like in Shadow of Violence, we encounter morally flattened characters, an invented romantic arc, and a completely different, more palatable ending. 

Shadow of Violence was a successful adaptation because despite these annoying changes, the tone was maintained. In Spiderhead, the changes alter the whole tone of the story, from a dark but hopeful look at what it means to be human, to a straightforward thriller that verges on slapstick and schmaltz. 

I wish filmmakers would “acknowledge” that audiences can handle a little ambiguity!
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The Superfluous Brothers Karamazov Read-Along Part 4: Making Mitya a Murderer

Defence lawyer from Making a Murderer. Dostoyevsky could’ve written this

If you find yourself in perplexity, go to the master post for the read-along schedule.

Part 4 is a little longer than the other parts, and there’s also the epilogue to deal with (if we must), so there’s a lot to unpack. But like Parts 1, 2, and 3, there’s really only one thread I enjoyed. The trial was not only the culmination of the story, but a perfect example of Dostoyevsky skewering human foibles in a way that could have been written yesterday.

Actually, the chapters about pre-teen layabout Kolya were very good at conveying the shame of trying to act mature but going a step too far, and making yourself ridiculous in front of the adults. But I could take or leave the other kids’ stuff, with Illyushka and his friends/bullies – I think this was all supposed to connect to the never-written sequel.

So let’s turn instead to Mitya and his trial, which was just as juicy as any sensational true crime documentary. It reminded me of one in particular, “Making a Murderer.”

Much as I obsessed over Making a Murder, I found Mitya’s trial even juicier, and more satisfying, since we do find out who did it and why, two pretty key pieces of info that are obviously not revealed on the Netflix show. It also has a logic and moral centre that reality tends to lacks. The murder at the heart of Making a Murderer is senseless, and the victim is a blank slate, whereas we know the hearts and minds of all the suspects and characters here, and everyone, including the victim, is flawed.

The stories aren’t totally comparable. The whole premise of Making a Murderer is a corrupt justice system coercing false (?) confessions out of a dimwitted young man, whereas in The Brothers K, false confessions are given freely and repeatedly, by men of varying wits! The overwhelming evidence against Mitya, the various, hapless attempts his brothers and lovers make to help him, the celebrated experts and lawyers and overall spectacle of the trial “make” him a murderer, but in the end, the most damning piece of evidence against him is the one he wrote himself. If Making a Murderer is about people getting duped by the system, The Brothers Karamazov is about people duping themselves. 

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.

Both the book and the show revel in the spectacle a grisly murder creates. I was late to the Making a Murder party, but searching for gifs for this post revealed some of the odd ephemera that’s still out there. Dostoyevsky writes about the spectacle of a murder trial in ways that feel so modern. I’ve said it before, but he shows me time and time again that there’s nothing new in human nature, and while social media might amplify human tendencies, it doesn’t create new ones.

Women be watching true crime:

I even think that all the ladies, every single one of them, a-thirst as they were with such impatience for the acquittal of the ‘interesting’ defendant, were at the same time quite convinced of his complete and utter guilt.

Backseat lawyer-ing:

‘Oh for pity’s sake, do you really suppose they will not acquit him?’ one of our young civil servants was shouting in another group.

‘Of course they will,’ a resolute voice was heard to say.

‘It would be shameful, disgraceful, not to acquit him!’ the civil servant continues to vociferate… ‘If I’d been in the defence counsel’s shoes I’d have just said straight out: he committed the murder, but he isn’t guilty, and the devil with you!’ 

Lawyers’ dramatic monologues, the prosecution:

“Remember that you are the defenders of our truth, the defenders of our holy Russia…These anxious voices from Europe have already reached our ears. They are already beginning to resound. Then do not tempt them, do not accumulate their ever-growing hatred by a verdict that justified the murder of a father by his own son!…”

Lawyers’ dramatic monologues, the defence:

“In your hands lies my client’s fate, and in your hands, too, the fate of our Russian justice. You shall save it, you shall uphold it, you shall prove that there are those who care for its observance, that it is in good hands!”

Modern true crime creates the same circus of obsessions, hot takes, and easy moralizing. Making a Murderer and shows like it are compelling to watch, but leave me feeling hopeless, and vaguely guilty for having been so compelled. The Brothers K, and Dostoyevsky in general, can also be pretty bleak, but not hopeless. Because he doesn’t suggest easy answers, you don’t feel disappointed when they don’t come. 

When you finish The Brothers Karamazov and realize there’s still a whole epilogue to go