Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks,has finally made it to television, and I've just watched the first episode. Faulks, of course, isn't a "crime writer", despite his recent foray into the world of James Bond with Devil May Care, but along with Ian McEwan (who is possibly my favourite - I'll be writing more about him before long) and one or two others, he is in the top rank of contemporary British novelists. There is a lot that genre writers can learn from studying such masters of the craft of fiction.
I very much enjoyed the TV version of Birdsong. Briefly, it tells the story of Stephen Wraysford and Isabelle Azaire, who meeet when he visits Amiens during the Edwardian era - she is the wife of a hard-nosed French businessman with whom he has an association. The pair enjoy a torrid affair, and memories of it return to Wraysford when he is fighting for his life in the Somme.
The lead roles are taken by Eddie Redmayne and Clemence Poesy, and both gave strong performances. The scenes set in pre-war Amiens were quite beautifully photographed, but it was the graphic scenes set in the horrors of the trenches that made by far the biggest impact. This was television drama at its most powerful.
As it happens, I haven't read Faulks' book: one of all too many gaps in my mainstream reading. Does not knowing the book make a difference to the viewing experience? Possibly, although when I watch (say) adaptations of crime novels by the likes of Mark Billingham, Ann Cleeves or Peter Robinson, I don't find it difficult to draw a distinction between original material and the TV version. I'm equally happy to come to a TV adaptation fresh, or to try to assess it on its own merits as distinct from the source. Certainly, Reg Hill was strongly of the view that the TV versions of Dalziel and Pascoe were very different works from his novels about the duo. I prefer the books of Mark, Ann, Peter and Reg to the TV versions, but to say this is not to denigrate the adaptations. And I can think of one or two other adaptations that outshine the originals. This drama has made me want to read Birdsong, but when I do, I'll treat it as a different experience from watching Abi Morgan's script brought to life on the screen.