Cloud Atlas

10.26.12

Most Unfilmable Book You'd Watch as a Movie: Readers Pick the Winner

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas seemed impossible to adapt to the silver screen, but here it is. We asked readers what other impossible book they’d turn into a movie. David Foster Wallace tops the list.

And the winner is: Infinite Jest!

David Foster Wallace’s hysterical record of our anxious generation features a Québécois separatist group called the Wheelchair Assassins, years that are subsidized by corporate sponsors (Year of the Whopper, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment), a hazardous-waste dump that covers the Northeastern U.S. called the "Great Concavity," and, finally, a film so entertaining that anyone who watches it dies.

Here are the runners-up:

Ulysses by James Joyce
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Underworld by Don DeLillo

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s visionary 2004 novel, is another novel that has been called unfilmable. Its six separate plots spin and swirl for your postmodern attention, and they drift from the 1850s to postapocalyptic times. (Here is our primer for dummies.) The task is formidable, if only that six independent locations and sets would be needed, not to mention an academy of casts and a liberal running time to cram all that plot in. Three directors (Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski) ended up spending about $100 million to produce the nearly three-hour-long movie. (And film critic David Ansen said in his Newsweek piece that it failed.)

Some notable picks:

2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
At Swim-Two-Birds by Brian O'Nolan (as Flann O'Brien)
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, although, of course, in 1971 the brilliant Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini already turned it into one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history. It's a must-see.
The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch
The Recognitions by William Gaddis
The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch
V by Thomas Pynchon
Room by Emma Donoghue

Let’s hope word gets to directors like David Lynch and Claire Denis.