Big Little Lies, Handmaid's Tale: 2017’s must-read books, before they become films, TV shows

Sneha Khale

Feb,12 2017 10:18 19 IST

Gunslinging rebels in an Old West type setting; augmented-cybernetic humans fighting cyberterrorism; a dystopian society where women are categorised hierarchically, not just according to class and status, but also their capacity to bear children — these are the kickass premises of just some of the movies and TV shows that are coming to our screens this year. And they’re the brainchildren of their authors, since they’re all adapted from books — novels, short stories, manga etc.

Last year, we saw a fair number of book adaptations to movies and on television (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Silence, Queen of Katwe, The BFG, War and Peace, The Night Manager) and this year, we’ve already had the super-impressive Hidden Figures (based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s non fiction book of the same name), A Series of Unfortunate Events (which adapted the first four books of the Lemony Snicket series), and well, Fifty Shades Darker (erm, which was also there...written as fan fiction at some point in the post-Twilight haze).

Plenty more adaptations are on their way in 2017, and while it’s nice to wait and see these written stories come to life on screen, for those of you who enjoy knowing the plot beforehand (which I completely get — I once sat and read All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka overnight, so I could go watch Edge of Tomorrow, which is based on the book, the next day) or if you just enjoy reading good books, here’s a list of books that you should get up to speed with this year.

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Books being adapted to television in 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty — You can begin with Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, especially since its television adaptation premieres on HBO on February 19th. Released in 2014, what is a seemingly light book actually deftly explores domestic violence. You’d be forgiven for categorising it as “chick lit” when you first start reading the book (Moriarty’s breezy writing style and champagne metaphors feel kinda like The Devil Wears Prada for married women), but this story of three mothers trying to keep their calm in light of a murder that threatens to disrupt their lives, is interspersed with a disturbing storyline that makes it a pretty compulsive read.

The television adaptation has an enviable star cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård , Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoë Kravitz.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — Booker prize winner and Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s Arthur C Clarke winning novel The Handmaid’s Tale is the ultimate feminist war cry set in a dystopian society where women are treated like objects and “reared” for their reproductive capacity. With feminist heroes named “Offred” and “Ofglen” (named after the men in their lives, literally meaning “of Fred” and “of Glen!”) and a riveting premise, The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic commentary on politics, caste, gender, occupation, and class.

The adaptation (on streaming service Hulu) has Elisabeth Moss as Offred and Alexis Bledel as Ofglen. Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahaovski, and Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley also star.

Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan — In 2002, Richard K. Morgan wrote a cyberpunk sci-fi novel that went on to win the Philip K Dick award for best novel a year later. A dystopian undertone (in the Altered Carbon world, human personalities can be stored digitally and downloaded into new bodies) and characters like Takeshi Kovacs have ensured that Morgan’s saga has a continuing cult following, so it’s hardly surprising that Netflix wants to adapt the book.

Joel Kinnaman will star as Takeshi Kovacs, a former “Envoy” (i.e. a futuristic soldier turned criminal/mercenary/bodyguard/detective).

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn — Years before she freaked the hell out of married couples with Gone Girl and while she was still working as a television critic for Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Flynn authored Sharp Objects, her debut novel published in 2006, about a newspaper journalist who goes back to her hometown to report on a series of brutal murders. The book follows Camille Preaker as she works her way through her dysfunctional family, her own past demons, and a serial killer on the prowl. A taut thriller, Sharp Objects can be a tad disturbing; stay away from this one only if you’re unnerved by the thought of someone cutting and mutilating themselves (see the image on the book — contrary to the popular adage, sometimes the cover gives a pretty good idea of what’s inside!).

Amy Adams will star as Camille in the HBO adaptation.

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas — In 1996, after twenty-five years of service, special agent John Douglas took all his experience on the force and the research and analysis from his interviews with a dozen serial killers (including Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy!) and compiled everything in an astonishing book titled Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. Astonishing because (a) this is the guy who put together the FBI’s Behavioural Sciences Unit; he was the inspiration behind Jack Crawford from Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon, and (b) the sheer psychoticism of the serial killers Douglas profiles, is disturbing to the core. This one’s an unmissable read!

Netflix’s adaptation of this book will hopefully live up to the book’s impact on students of psychology and criminology, and fans of the book in general. Jonathan Groff will star as Douglas in the adaptation. Anna Torv (of Fringe fame) also stars. David Fincher and Charlize Theron are producing the show.

Also read 

#Girlboss — Nasty Girl CEO Sophia Amoruso’s autobiography. Netflix is adapting her story on screen this April.

Murder on the Orient Express — If you haven’t read it already, now’s the time! Agatha Christie’s classic Hercule Poirot murder mystery novel is being remade (once again) for the big screen. Kenneth Branagh will play Poirot (he’s already accustomed to playing a foreign detective, with Wallander); Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, and Michelle Pfeiffer also star.

13 Reasons Why — John Asher wrote this young adult (YA) fiction book back in 2007. The fact that it’s being adapted on screen by Netflix ten years later, and is being produced by a young star like Selena Gomez, is an indicator of the continuing popularity of the book over the last decade.

Marvel’s Iron Fist and Marvel’s Punisher — The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) keeps expanding, with Iron Fist and Punisher joining Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. This might be a good time to go grab some back issues of the original comic books perhaps?

Books being adapted to movies in 2017

Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow — This year’s Ghost in the Shell movie, starring Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi, is not the first version of this story. It’s not even the second or the third. It all started with a manga back in 1989, written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow, about Major Kusanagi — a “full-body prosthesis” augmented-cybernetic human who leads the fictional counter-cyberterrorist organisation Public Security Section 9. Like any good manga, Ghost in the Shell’s plot and character development, as well as the illustrations, are remarkable. Not an overnight read obviously, this is the kind of manga that makes you want to be an anime character and fight crime like a badass!

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane — Not only has Dennis Lehane got three of his books made into movies (Mystic River, Shutter Island, and, Gone Baby Gone) he has also been a writer for The Wire and the Boardwalk Empire. A crime novel, Lehane’s Live by Night is set in the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, and chronicles the rise and fall of a gangster during the era. Crimes are committed, people fight each other and go to prison, and the KKK make an appearance or two. Exciting stuff!

Ben Affleck has written, directed, and produced the movie; he’s also starring in the movie as the protagonist.

The Circle by Dave Eggers — Dave Eggers’ contemporary sci-fi novel The Circle, about a woman in her 20s named Mae Holland starting work at a company called the Circle, touches upon a range of socially relevant topics — privacy, data collection, and the  intrusion of government and other online platforms into normal people’s normal lives. Mae, who is really impressed with the company at first, soon realizes that something sinister is going on at her place of work. Eggers’ writing credentials are impeccable, so don’t hesitate to pick up this book.

Emma Watson is the protagonist in the movie, so you already know the heroine is fierce!

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer — If you enjoyed Alex Garland’s book writing skills in The Beach and then his script writing and movie directing skills in Ex Machina, then you’ll love Annihilation (even though he didn’t write the book). Author Jeff VanderMeer’s horror sci-fi novel is a terrific and atmospheric read about an expedition to the mysterious Area X. Several teams have failed (they’ve all mostly died or been killed) to get any meaningful information back from the area; the book tells us the story of the 12th expedition and its challenges. It’s definitely an engaging read.

In the movie, Natalie Portman plays the narrator, a biologist.

Also read 

The Dark Tower and It — Two of Stephen King’s works are being adapted for the big screen this year: his magnum opus The Dark Tower and the Pennywise the Clown horror vehicle It. Dark fantasy, sci-fi, horror — these two have it all! Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star in The Dark Tower, which is slated for a July release. It hits theaters in September.

The Zookeeper’s Wife — A New York Times bestseller and a true story, in her book, Diane Ackerman recounts the tale of the Warsaw zookeepers who saved hundreds of people from the Nazis. The fact that the book is a series of real events in history written by a naturalist, and not a historian, definitely makes it interesting. Jessica Chastain stars in the movie which will release in mid-March.

All right then, happy reading!