By Michael Chabon
Loving a book and then watching the film adaptation is like setting yourself up for a fall, isn’t it? So why not do it the other way round? I love Curtis Hanson’s movie Wonder Boys, and have done since the first time I saw it years ago. I sprung it on a group of friends, all of whom hated it. But I didn’t give up, and have watched it once a year or so ever since.
I always knew I wanted to read the novel on which it is based. Wonder Boys is, after all, a story about novels, writers and stories. Delving only deeper into this narrative, in the way it was originally conceived could only be a good thing. And indeed it is. Michael Chabon’s excellent novel is a sort-of literary screwball comedy. Where American Pie is dumb and dirty, Wonder Boys is dumb and dirty, but with a kind of grace. Chabon manages to drive forward his lumbering plot with pace and wit – and plenty of teasing. The story follows a creative writing professor and novelist, dreading the visit of his editor because his new novel simply isn’t ready. In fact, it’s sprawled into a 2,000-page mess. The editor arrives on the weekend of a literary festival, during which our hero becomes embroiled in all sorts of mischief along with his editor, two students, his in-laws, his lover and her husband.
The novel is perfectly conceived: taking place over one hectic weekend, it is exciting; that the weekend in question is when many things fall into and out of place for our hero is the real treat. We see a man demolished, systematically, by others but mostly by himself. We love him throughout and certainly, as he realises his folly and slips into emotional humility, at the end. This is a perfect novel.