What an absolute treat we had from the BBC with its sumptuous productions of Little Women and The Miniaturist, I loved every second of both. Some people commented that there were differences from the original stories, but any production will do that with so many people bringing there own influences and perspectives to the project. When it came to exquisite direction, high production values, good scripting, stunning sets and mesmeric acting both Little Women and The Miniaturist were both perfect Christmas viewing for me.
Then, with some surprise, I saw both productions had been slammed in the media. A certain red top was very scathing, but the same newspaper is owned by a direct competitor of the BBC so, in truth, they would say that wouldn’t they? However it was the twitter comments that stopped me in my tracks. There were complaints that Little Women was “slow,” and had “no action,” but, the most astonishing one was; “There was no twist.” Meanwhile, The Miniaturist, as well as being slow, was accused of having “no proper ending” and being “left unresolved.”
The thought that Little Women needed more action and a twist reflects today’s world and not the time when the book was written. Nowadays books are all about getting into the action on page one and the ‘dramatic twist’ is now king. When I started out as a writer I asked at a seminar if it were still possible, in these very commercial days, to write a first book with a slow start and I was told very firmly ‘no.’ I think it’s a great shame because thrillers are a great genre and trust me, I love a good one, but what will happen to the slow burn novels that are beautifully written? There is talk of providing financial support for the more literary writers, but what if their market is being allowed to diminish anyway?
Over New Year I commented, on a facebook page for book-lovers, that I had loved the book ‘Out Stealing Horses.’ The first reply said: ‘I found it really boring, nothing happened in it.’ All I could think about was the deeply moving prose and the disturbing undercurrent of memories concealed by a man trying to live a quiet life at the end of his days. For me the style of writing carried it in the same way that the carefully crafted scenes in The Miniaturist and Little Women drew me in so that, unlike many complainers, I didn’t see the snow ‘going upwards.’ Instead I was listening to the beautiful words Jo shared with her professor.
Over Christmas I listened to a radio discussion about our ‘diminishing attention span’ and I am wondering if, in a world where information comes at you from every angle at all times of day, there is no longer the space we all need to concentrate and immerse ourselves in books at a deeper level. Trust me, I’m no shining example, I find it very hard to carve out time to read, it’s far too easy to choose screen time instead, but once we discard these beautiful books and their film adaptations we will lose something very special.
I would love to see the reading equivalent of Jamie Oliver’s Slow Food, slow television. For example, I watched an old film from the BBC iplayer archives over the holidays. It was a ghost story about a train. It was devoid of music and a lot of the scenes were therefore quiet; the dialogue was laboured and long-winded; there was some action, but not that much, and the simple set was a railway, a tunnel and a signal box. I can tell you that I was absolutely gripped by it and its simplicity made it riveting viewing. It was slow, there was very little action and nothing like the twist demanded these days, and I loved it.
I’m pretty certain, given the wide reaction to these Christmas dramas, there will be no future trend towards the slower paced, beautifully filmed and wonderfully scripted productions which is very sad. My fear is that gems like Little Women and The Miniaturist will have to be savoured and enjoyed because commercialism is now firmly established as the driver and it will pander to the loudest voices and those people who want “twists” and “action” and sweaty, muscular men in vests flying burning helicopters.