Friday, November 25, 2005

Gilbert Adair - Innocents/Dreamers & Bertolucci


The last item on my reading list below (the last thing I read) was Gilbert Adair's 'The Holy Innocents'. It's the book on which the Bertolucci film 'Les Innocents' (The Dreamers) was based - kind of - a film I mentioned in an earlier post. Since I finished reading my paperback copy I did a bit of poking around. Turns out, first off, that 'The Holy Innocents' is an excruciatingly expensive first edition, particularly for a novel published in 1988. Why this is, I'm not yet sure but if might have something to do with the strange publishing history.

Adair wrote the novel (his first full length adult novel) and published it in 1988 with Heinemann in the UK and E. P. Dutton in the US. But, it appears he was not happy with it. He held off selling the film rights for almost a decade until, eventually, Bertolucci asked. Given that the book is a kind of cinephile's wet dream, Bertolucci would have seemed the perfect choice. So the film was made, with Adair himself working on the screenplay and telling Bertolucci, reportedly, to be "totally unfaithful" to the book. At the same time, Adair decided to rewrite the novel as the book that he actually wanted and this published as 'The Dreamers'. So he has effectively written this story three times: novel - screenplay - novel. The second novel-version coming out at the same time as the film in 2003.

There are significant changes. First, Matthew, the young American student who beomcomes sexually entwined with a French pair of brother-sister twins, is much more straighforwardly bisexual in the first book than in the film or the second book. The first book has a sexual menage between all three in all directions and the twins are in a fully-sexual relationship before they meet Matthew: in the film, although the viewer is encouraged for a while to think that the twins are in fact incestuous, it turns out that when Matthew makes love to Danielle for the first time, it is in fact her first time too: Matthew and the male twin are not overtly sexually connected in the film either which is not the case in the first book. The first book sees the threesome plunge into a much greater depravity than the film although the sense of isolation is the same. The film also re-introduces the parents and the idea of a suicide on the back of parental discovery is brought into play.

I saw the film first. I enjoyed it, it's very sexy, has the incomparible Michael Pitt playing Matthew and the central section where the characters are caught up in their own, depraved, isolated world has a real sense of claustrophobia and dark tension. However, I was disappointed by the end which seemed weak, and I felt it lacked the depth of psychological truth that the first book had. I shall be looking out for the second version in book form which I haven't yet read.

More about Gilbert Adair here.

The copy illustrated is the 1989 E. P Dutton first US edition.

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