Monday, 13 December 2010

In and out of literary fashion

I'm underwhelmed by Tate Modern's Gauguin exhibition, which leaches colour from Paul's famous nudie paintings, although it does highlight a couple of novels in its wake. Featured heavily in the gallery shop is Mario Vargas Llosa's The Way to Paradise (2003), a double portrait of Gauguin and Gauguin's feminist grandmother Flora Tristan.

The book was further proof of the Peruvian writer's glowing reputation - recently confirmed with the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, perhaps the final blow in his feud with Colombian Gabriel García Márquez. The exhibition also references W Somerset Maugham's earlier Gauguin-inspired novella, The Moon and Sixpence (1919; made into a film with the delectable George Sanders in 1942).

Once hugely popular for such titles as Of Human Bondage (adapted for cinema a few times) and The Razor's Edge (filmed with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney in 1946), a 2006 adaptation of The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, did little to revive interest. While the sun may have set on Maugham, George Orwell is afforded changing reward: everyone reads Animal Farm and 1984 but continuing reissues by Penguin of his hardy back-catalogue, notably the essays, reap little attention.

A thorough favourite at school, Graham Greene is another whose formidable oeuvre is treated with ambivalence - the legacy of jealousy over the author's contemporary popularity and prolific output or price of Britain's continuing anti-Catholic sentiment? (We can't have one as monarch; see also this last weekend's Wikileaks revelations.) How welcome a reappraisal of The Heart of the Matter, The End of the Affair (brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore in Neil Jordan's 1999 movie), Our Man in Havana and the rest, ahead of Rowan Joffe's adaptation of Brighton Rock (pictured), starring Sam Riley (Control) and Andrea Riseborough, due out 4 February.

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