- Novelization: From Film to Novel by Jan Baetens
Ten years after it was first published, Jan Baetens’s La Novellisation: du film au roman (Brussels: Les Impressions nouvelles, 2008) has finally been made accessible for [End Page 496] anglophone audiences. Mary Feeney’s translation includes a new final chapter in which Baetens reflects on the work undertaken around the genre of novelization over the past decade, which remains an all too easily overlooked form within the ever-growing field of adaptation studies. At a time when Oxford University Press and Routledge have both recently published major companions to adaptation studies — and when Palgrave Macmillan continues to expand its excellent series in ‘Adaptation and Visual Culture’ — this field has notably broadened its sweep beyond the tried-and-tested novel-to-film model of analysis thanks to the development of a more intermedial understanding of adaptation as both an embodied product and a cultural process. Yet the reverse trajectory of that familiar model has found itself taken for granted (if it is even acknowledged) in an area that is increasingly fascinated with new digital media and the various contexts of production and consumption in which adaptations are made. Baetens addresses this oversight by focusing on twentieth-century France to provide a much-needed critical history of novelization. Most strikingly, he insists that novelization is not simply a reverse adaptation and in fact represents a large industry that has produced thousands of titles since the golden age of the ciné-roman of the 1920s. That industry has slipped under the radar of many scholars due to the invisibility of the authors involved and the reputation of novelizations as disposable romans de gare with a limited shelf life. Baetens traces its beginnings back to early twentieth-century serials in print media, which offered complementary descriptions of silent film for audiences and producers alike. What becomes clearer over the subsequent decades of the sound era is a practice which begins not with the film but with some stage of the screenplay, thereby drawing attention to the genre’s textual rather than solely visual origins. Discussions of Pierre Bost’s novelization of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) and Jean-Claude Carrière’s 1950s take on two of Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films, among others, illustrate how the genre became at once standardized and subtly innovative. Although this book is singular and engaging, its contribution to adaptation studies is somewhat limited in scope by both its organization and its conceptual thinking. The four main sections are unevenly weighted and the coherence between (and within) them is too implicit, in part owing to a written style that is prone to generalized and at times cryptic statements, and to a translation that is sometimes unable to unpack the dense syntax of the original French. These structural concerns are compounded by a number of missed opportunities to develop the key paradigms of film and literary studies, not least questions of how to theorize intermedia cross-pollination and how to combine the methodologies of close reading with the macro-level vantage points of cultural and economic studies. Nevertheless, by opening this research to anglophone audiences, this new edition should certainly help to catalyse fresh thinking and approaches regarding the novel–film relationship.