Illustration by Thomas Durham
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole.
An absolutely riotous picaresque comedy whose publication and success were to be in tragic circumstances. One of the biggest issues of an adaptation lies within casting the infamous Ignatius Reilly, protagonist and southern behemoth of a man. Ignatius is a middle aged, over-educated and unemployed man who lives with his mother in their uptown New Orleans home. His days are filled with bedroom philosophy scribblings and unusual masturbation habits until an accident forces him to find work, where his life takes on a new and equally eccentric turn. The task of playing such a demanding character on screen had been given to John Belushi and John Candy, both of whom died before a film could materialise. More recently John Goodman and Will Ferrell have been attached but Hurricane Katrina’s decimation of New Orleans and consistent issues with production have hampered any such progress. In 2013 Director Steven Soderbergh even claimed the project may be cursed.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace.
Infinite Jest is a book that most would generally consider to be outright unfilmable, or at least in a traditional sense. The multitude of plots that comprise this 1200 page epic largely centre around a tennis academy in Boston and the AA halfway house down the street. Its plot spans decades, the length and breadth of North America and follows dozens of main characters, all in some way searching for a film that once seen, puts the viewer into a state of catatonic bliss. The closest Infinite Jest has made it to the silver screen is a music video featuring a game of the fictional “eschaton” (think tennis meets war games) and a handful of references in Parks and Rec and The Office. Short of a Netflix or HBO miniseries and a hell of a good screenwriter, Infinite Jest will certainly remain unmade for some time, if ever at all, as the time and precision required to make something that even represents a fraction of the novel would be painstaking.
The Catcher in The Rye, J.D Salinger.
Perhaps the most socially significant book on this list and an American classic. The biggest issue tackling this would-be film is the issue of the narrator, as a bulk of the book is 16 year old Holden Caulfield’s inner thoughts as he meanders around the East Coast having been expelled from boarding school. Further complicated by its strange association with murderers, censorship on grounds of communist sympathies and general lax social attitudes. Salinger experienced less than satisfactory film adaptations of his earlier works which may have led him to shun future projects, despite consistent interest in a film. Just before Salinger passed away in 2010 he said it was with great happiness that he didn’t see a Catcher in the Rye film, but he left the rights to his wife and daughter as an insurance policy of sorts should they fall on financial hard times. However it was recently announced to be published as an eBook so perhaps interest in a film adaptation will flare up.
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy.
Widely regarded as McCarthy’s best novel, yet one of his few remaining works still to be filmed. Unrelenting violence and the difficult subject matter have often been cited in Blood Meridian’s failure to reach a projection booth, but not for lack of trying. James Franco, Tommy Lee Jones, Ridley Scott and various other high profile screenwriters have all tried to adapt this savage tale of a nameless youth in a gang, scalping Native Americans along the Mexican border in the mid 19th century. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, McCarthy said he believes a successful film adaptation is possible as other adaptations of his work have been well received, in particular the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men which won Best Picture at the 2007 Oscars. In a 2018 reddit AMA Lynne Ramsay expressed interest in adapting Blood Meridian but no further action has yet occurred.
Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck.
Steinbeck is best known for his fictional works about the lower classes in depression-era America, but he also penned a handful of non-fiction books of acclaim including Travels With Charley, a travelogue chronicling an RV trip he took around the US with his poodle, Charley. A trip, according to his son, made because he knew he was dying and wanted to see America for the last time. Similar to The Catcher in The Rye, Travels With Charley features a lone protagonist whose musings form the majority of the novel. The very broad navigation of the US and perfect conversations he finds could easily be construed as kitsch and many have questioned the authenticity of the account, with Steinbeck finding himself in many situations which seem too good to be true. That being said, his inner concerns about the scale of urbanisation and commercialisation across the USA in 1960 seem to ring truer than ever and would make an interesting vocalisation in 2019.