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Book 32

  1. Grossmith, George & Weedon — The Diary of a Nobody (166 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — Blood Meridian (334 pages)
  3. Moore, Alan & Dave Gibbons — Watchmen (399 pages)
  4. Moore, Christopher — Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (507 pages)
  5. Murger, Henri — The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (381 pages)
  6. Walk with Me: A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2009 (98 pages)
  7. Douglas, Lloyd C. — The Robe (438 pages)
  8. Robinson, Marilynne — Gilead (281 pages)
  9. Jerome, Jerome K. — Three Men in a Boat (182 pages)
  10. Satrapi, Marjane — Persepolis (343 pages)
  11. Dodge, Jim — Fup (121 pages)
  12. Bauby, Jean-Dominique — The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (114 pages)
  13. Fleming, Ian — Casino Royale (219 pages)
  14. Blake, Quentin — Clown (30 pages)
  15. Weigel, George — The Courage To Be Catholic (249 pages)
  16. Ishiguro, Kazuo — The Remains of the Day (255 pages)
  17. Orwell, George — Animal Farm (125 pages)
  18. Garner, James Finn — Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (81 pages)
  19. Robinson, Marilynne — Home (339 pages)
  20. Opera Magazine — Basses in Opera: Profiles of thirteen great basses (96 pages)
  21. Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de — The Figaro Trilogy (David Coward, transl.) (335 pages)
  22. Keyes, Daniel — Flowers for Algernon (217 pages)
  23. Bök, Christian — Eunoia (94 pages)
  24. Zweig, Stefan — Chess (76 pages)
  25. Kinney, Jeff — Meet the Wimpy Kid (55 pages)
  26. Lovecraft, H.P. — At the Mountains of Madness (188 pages)
  27. Blatty, William Peter — The Exorcist (307 pages)
  28. Williamson, Jack — Darker Than You Think (266 pages)
  29. Pelevin, Victor — Omon Ra (152 pages)
  30. Molière — Five Plays: The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, The School for Wives, The Miser, The Hypochondriac [transl. Richard Wilbur, Alan Drury] (428 pages)
  31. Duffy-Korpics, Lisa — Tales from a Dog Catcher (255 pages)
  32. Laclos, Choderlos de — Dangerous Liaisons (437 pages)

Page count: 7568.

I've been reading Dangerous Liaisons off-and-on since the summer. (The advantage of an epistolary novel, I suppose, is that one can argue that, since the post can take several days between letters, so can the reader!) I began to read it in preparation for my performance as Begearss in the Figaro project at Grimeborn. A comment in the preface to the Beaumarchais plays suggested a reading of Dangerous Liaisons might help my understanding of the character.

I can't say that it did anything for my characterization. Yes, Begearss, Valmont, and Mertueil are all ruthless schemers, but Begearss is a two-dimensional, cookie-cutter villain whereas Valmont and Merteuil come across as real and complex people.

I really enjoyed Dangerous Liaisons. As the preface to the Beaumarchais pointed out, it is as dramatic as any play written at the time. The plays have one advantage over the novel, though: conciseness. There were times when I found the content of the letters tedious or turgid. I understand they fulfill a function, building up the waters of the metaphorical dam to its eventual bursting point. But it got to be a bit much for me at times, and I had to take breaks.

Here's where at least two of the movies get it right. (There have been four or five movie adaptations, and I have recently watched three of them.) The movies perhaps lack the richness of the book, the intricacy of detail, and many of the compelling subplots. But by distilling the story to its essentials, they improve the pacing and drama and crystallize the depravity of the story's poles, Valmont and Merteuil.

Of the movie versions, I liked the 1988 film starring John Malkovich and Glenn Close and the 1999 adaptation, Cruel Intentions, best. Malkovich in particular brought the character of Valmont to life with an immediacy, luridness, and depth of character that escaped even Laclos. I rarely like movie adaptations better than the books, but in this case Malkovich's performance and Frears' directorial choices bettered an already fascinating tale.

Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions, surprisingly, is not too far behind Malkovich in his portrayal of Valmont, but sadly the 1989 Valmont was a dud, despite all its potential: it was directed by Milos Forman and starred Annette Bening, Colin Firth, and Meg Tilly. I don't know if Forman (who seemed more intent on making a period costume piece than telling a good story) set out to compete directly with the previous year's Dangerous Liaisons or whether the timing was coincidental. The result was disastrous. Annette Bening would have been a worthy counterpart to Glenn Close had the adaptation not so completely emasculated the story. Instead, this felt like watching a great actress fighting to make gold out of a pile of shit. Meg Tilly's character lacked all the virtue and sophistication of Michelle Pfeiffer's Madame de Tourvel, who in Forman's adaptation became practically a girlish slut instead of a paragon of virtue, and Fairuza Balk's convincing naïvete (as if not more effective than Uma Thurman's) was lost in all the contrived trappings of Valmont.

If you have the time and the patience, I do recommend reading Laclos' novel. There is so much more richness (and the scandal depicted therein is so much more complete) than the movie adaptations could accomodate. Yet Frear's 1988 film is as effective a distillation of a novel as I have seen, one which doesn't lose any of the essence of the story while quickening the drama.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
elgatocurioso
Jan. 2nd, 2010 01:33 am (UTC)
How timely... Lady K and I watched half the movie (Dangerous Liaisons) last night and will finish it tonight.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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