The film was released in 2002 and, somehow, someway, my parents rented it in 2003 and we watched it at home. And I loved it. And I bought myself the DVD. In college, I bought myself the book and fell even more in love with it. Byatt's attention to detail, her sense of parallelism and her gift for natural poetry is all evident in this one big masterpiece. It reads as part-detective novel, part-biography and part-academic research.
Not only has Byatt created our modern-day characters, but she sets them off to learn everything about characters from the past who, while they don't exist in the real world, have as much presence (and primary sources!) as someone who did. Byatt has written all of this, and that gives the novel a structure that is not only multi-layered, but staggeringly beautiful.
So often - in novels, in histories, in film - Victorian England is captured as a kind of bleak, two-tone, melancholy kind of place with corsets and high collars and long sleeves.
|The past is hot|
One teeny word on the ending, without spoiling it for all: If you've ever seen the film, you know that the ending is very hopeful-hopeful-omg yes hopeful-and-then-oh...oh...oh, well....oh, that's. okay that's nice, but....oh. The novel is not subject to the liminalities of the director's camera. That ending of the film is there more for the weight of the final image, and for the heartache of the audience.
The novel ends very similarly (the film is - with minor additions and subtractions and condensing - EXTREMELY true to the novel, and I heartily give Neil LaBute, David Henry Hwang and Laura Jones the credit for their screenplay which is so heartwrenchingly good) but instead of melancholy at the finality of the last bit, there is satisfaction. Sad, but immense satisfaction - a sense of the last piece of the puzzle finally squeezing into the center once the other pieces have been laid and fitted in. And while the movie makes my heart ache like any movie can, the book made me weep...both times.
And that's why I think that I cannot be truly objective on this point--there is too much emotionally at stake for me to really be objective. I'll leave it to the professionals. My so-called review is "Fire bad. Tree pretty. Go read book."