Eleanor Wachtel at TIFF

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Actor Tom Hanks, one of the stars of the new Cloud Atlas adaptation, signs autographs at the Toronto International Film Festival (Evan Agostini/Inivsion/Associated Press)

wachtel-eleanor.jpgWith this year's Toronto International Film Festival in full swing, CBC Books checked in with Writers & Company host Eleanor Wachtel, who has been taking in many of the movies. There are several high-profile adaptations of recent novels playing at the festival and Eleanor gave us her thoughts on what she had seen so far. You can also listen to past interviews she did with the authors.

Cloud Atlas

cloud-atlas-cover-100.jpg"This is a favourite of mine. I haven't reread the novel since it first came out eight years ago, but it was an extraordinary book and a particularly inventive kind of creation. What David Mitchell does is tell six stories that are like nesting bowls, cut in half, so you get the first part of each story. Each one is told in a different a style, in a different period, different characters, although there are subtle links between them all. You get the beginning of one story and then you jump-cut to another story, and then the other halves of the nesting bowls are picked up in the second half of the novel.

In one way it sounds very filmic because of the jump-cutting, in another way -- because of the style of writing, the use of language -- it's very subtle and initially struck me as being essentially unfilmable.

So when I heard that the German director Thomas Tykwer, who was famous for Run Lola Run, and then Lana and Andy Wachowski, known for The Matrix, were collaborating together to make the movie, I didn't know what to expect.

It's over two-and-a-half hours long. It's very ambitious, it's ingeniously constructed, differently from the novel ... I don't know if it's because of the influence of the Wachowski siblings or what, but the futuristic sections of the novel are almost transformed into high-tech chase scenes. The tone of the movie had a bit too much Matrix in it for me, overpowering some of the other aspects of the story, but I admire the fact that they were able to make it into a movie. I would recommend it with some reservations."

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Mr. Pip

mr-pip-100.jpg"Mr. Pip is a less well-known novel by Lloyd Jones, although it won the Commonwealth Best Novel Prize when it came out in 2007. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and it's a very interesting, subtle, charming novel, and I was delighted that it was being made into a movie. And the movie keeps surprisingly close to the story.

It's set in the South Pacific on the island of Bougainville and in the novel you only discover gradually what the background and context of the story is. With the film they just spell it out because it would probably be too complicated to follow otherwise. It's one of the trade-offs between movies and books.

But the background of the story is that there are plans to build a huge copper mine in the area and that leads to civil unrest. The brutal army of Papa New Guinea blockades the island. It sounds very political but it's really the context for a story about imagination. Mr. Pip, of course, refers to Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations, and the only white man left on the island starts to teach the children by reading Great Expectations to them. The regular teacher has left.

hugh-laurie-150.jpgThe most surprising thing for me in the movie was that they cast Hugh Laurie, also known as Dr. House, as this teacher, and he does a lovely job, and the effect of the story is very moving.

So it's a situation where I recommend the book, I recommend the movie. I'd probably say, in my own experience, I like to read the novels first before seeing the movie because, in a sense, movies colonize your imagination. I think if you see the movie first you won't be able to read it without seeing Hugh Laurie in that role, so it's one of those things where if you have time, and the movie's not released yet, read the book and then go see the movie Mr. Pip."

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

reluctant_fundamentalist.JPG"This is based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid also from 2007. Mohsin Hamid co-wrote the screenplay with Mira Nair, who is probably best known for Monsoon Wedding.

It's a troubling and powerful story and I don't want to give away too much of what happens. Mira Nair, in collaboration with Mohsin Hamid, has charged it -- they've framed it with a political kidnapping that adds a kind of tension, making it a political thriller almost in the style of Costa Gavras. And in that sense also it's serious and thoughtful and disturbing and I highly recommend it. The film is among the best I've seen so far during the festival."


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