10 Novels That Explore Identity

“At what precise moment…does an individual cease to be the person he…believes himself to be?…If [both] arms are gone, I say: myself and my two arms…If they had to take out my stomach, my liver, my kidneys – I could still say: myself and my organs. But, if they cut off my head, what could I say then? Myself and my body, or myself and my head? [The Tenant, Topor/Price, Black Spring Press, 1966: 58].

There are so many great books that grapple with the issue of identity, from classic sci-fi – Wells’s The Invisible Man [1897] and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? [1968] to fun foreign-language choices, including Japrisot’s Trap for Cinderella [1962]. Below are 10 books that discuss the issue of identity in a narrative context. For the purposes of this list, I define “identity” in terms of being a purely existential matter, rather than one based on any national, cultural, racial or gender identification. This list is also in no particular order, and I have taken care not to include books which I mentioned in my two previous, similar-themed lists “Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins and “Mirror Image”: 7 Books That Focus on Doppelgängers/Doubles.

I. The Late Mattia Pascal

This 1904 novel by Novel Laureate Luigi Pirandello (Six Characters in Search of an Author) tells the story of a man who sees his chance to start life anew when he finds out that he was mistakenly pronounced dead. However, his prospects turn out to be not as promising as they appear on the first glance. The book is ironic and philosophical, and, for a similar theme, see also Balzac’s novella Colonel Chabert about a man searching for his past identity.

II. The Tenant

The Tenant is a 1964 French-language book (translation is available) by Roland Topor about a man renting an apartment in Paris. The man soon notices strange behaviour of his neighbours and starts to suspect the worst concerning the near-death of the previous occupant of the apartment. This is a very good psychological horror story that emphasises the loss of identity and apartment claustrophobia. It was also made into a 1976 film.

Continue reading “10 Novels That Explore Identity”

The Literary Adaptation Book Tag

Since my two recent book reviews were of books that resulted in major films – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and The Night of the Hunter – I have decided to have a go at this book tag about literary adaptations, slightly changing the original book tag seen at Milibroteca (a Spanish language book blog).

The English Patient Film PosterI. What is your favourite literary adaptation? 

Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient [1996] adapted from the novel of the same name [1992] by Michael Ondaatje.

The English Patient is far from being the most faithful adaptation, but Minghella (The Talented Mr Ripley [1999]) conveyed the spirit and atmosphere of the novel perfectly, and the film boasts great performances from Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche. The score by Gabriel Yared (Betty Blue [1986]) is one of the most beautiful ever produced, too.

Virgin Suicides Film PosterII. What do you consider to be the best book-to-film adaptation?

Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides [1999] adapted from the novel of the same name [1993] by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

In my opinion, some of the best ever literary adaptations include Gone with the Wind [1939], Rosemary’s Baby [1968] and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [2001], but there is still something very special about Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, so I choose that film. It is a beautiful, haunting adaptation which remains largely faithful to the source material. Coppola did an amazing job conveying the suburban claustrophobia and hidden despair and tension of the girls. Continue reading “The Literary Adaptation Book Tag”

10 Great Novels set in New York, NY

The Bonfire of the VanitiesI. The Bonfire of the Vanities [1987] by Tom Wolfe 

Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed novel is set in New York as it tells of a high-flying bond trader Sherman McCoy and his eventual fall from the societal ladder when he is involved in a hit-and-run accident alongside his strikingly-beautiful lover Maria. We get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the New York’s privileged, while also mull over the lives of the disadvantaged living in the Bronx and those on the media outlets’ outskirts desperate to make a big story whatever it takes. Though, in terms of plot, it probably takes cues from both The Great Gatsby [1925] and the Spanish film Death of a Cyclist [1955], Wolfe’s novel is still a pure joy to read: witty, bitter-sweet and engrossing. One of the chapters is titled The Masque of the Red Death, so there is plenty of nuance and hidden irony.  

Breakfast at Tiffany's Cover BookII. Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1958] by Truman Capote 

What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets” (2001: 36, Capote). Capote’s novella is short, and both sweet and melancholy in a way. It is about Holly Golightly, a stylish, vivacious young woman, living and enjoying life in Manhattan, not even wanting to think of her past, while men who admire her continue to speculate and probe into her mysteries and the secrets to her success. It is an easy read, but no less fascinating for it.  Continue reading “10 Great Novels set in New York, NY”

10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines

I. Albert Camus – The Stranger [1942]

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” [1984: 9, Camus/translation]. “You could never change your life…[and] that in any case one life was as good as another and…I wasn’t at all dissatisfied with mine here” [1984: 44, Camus/translation]. 

II. José Saramago – The Cave [2000] 

Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be, of knowing, recognising and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt” [2002: 254, Saramago/translation]. “What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners, They are just like us” [Plato, The Republic, Book VII].  Continue reading “10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines”