Movie or book? That is always the question when Hollywood chooses to turn a beloved novel into a movie. Some adaptations have been delivered nicely; I won’t say flawlessly because let’s be honest, that’s never happened! Today one adaptation we will be talking about is the movie Shirley, based on the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell.
First, I want to give some personal background information. In November of 2019, I discovered The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. I remember being in a trance after reading it. I was feeling many emotions. The story starts out so peaceful and quiet then morphs into straight madness all in the name of tradition. It is gloriously horrific! It was pure brilliance and a story that sticks with you. I posted about the story on Facebook, and about ¾ of my friends list commented. It was one of the best social media conversations I have ever had. It showed the brilliance and lasting impressions of Shirley’s writing.
I found myself ecstatic to take on reading Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell and was even more elated to discover that there is now a movie based on said book. I struggled with what to do first; read or watch? It’s always a tough choice because you know that there will be differences. I settled on reading first, and I am so glad that I did.
Before we get to what was better and why, I will say that I honestly took longer to read the book than normal because I found myself researching Shirley Jackson. I wanted to know what truths the book held and what was fiction as I read. I would read a chapter or two and find myself researching. Merrell did a fascinating job at capturing the life of Shirley and her family. Though Shirley could be removed, I still felt connected to Merrell’s character, and it really made me understand why Shirley wrote The Lottery. Merrell created a story with many beautiful layers. The narrator of the story is not a factual person, but she is the key piece of putting together who Shirley Jackson was, not only as an author, but as a person, a wife, a mother, and in the case of this story, a friend.
So, it should come as no surprise that I loved the book more. There was just more there to dive into. You got a clearer picture of Shirley Jackson from the book than the movie. I got more of the thriller/psychological aspect from the book than the movie. I feel they didn’t focus enough on the thriller part of the story, and so the movie didn’t hold much interest for me. It was oversexualized and focused more on one of Shirley’s novels, Hangsaman. I haven’t had the chance to read the story but I researched and discovered that the story was inspired by the disappearance of a young girl. Now the book also talks about this young woman but turns it into real time. I do not want to divulge too much here because you really need to read the story and discover this for yourself. Yup, that’s right. I am going to keep some information a mystery because the beauty of reading is discovery.
The one thing that the book had that really drew me in was that it wasn’t necessarily a book about Shirley, but more a book about women/girls like Shirley. The lost girls of the world. The girls that are not seen, that do not really have a place in the world. Rose and Shirley were a lot alike and in other ways very different. Shirley and Rose came from families that didn’t show much affection. Both women had to fight their own respective battles, but it's how those battles shaped them that made them different. The movie didn’t touch on this at all, and I felt this was crucial in understanding Shirley and just why Susan was inspired to write about her in the first place.
The movie takes place in 1948 and the book in 1964, so that is another major difference that just didn’t sit right with me. I know movies are ‘based’ on a book and there are things that will be rearranged, but they just moved too much around and really took out so much that gave the book its personality. In all honesty if I had seen the movie first, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to bother with the book. It’s so thrilling for me sometimes to have books turned into movies, but when there are vast differences, it just kills that magic.
I will say that the cast though did wonderfully in their roles. Elisabeth Moss was a perfect Shirley, and I couldn’t picture anyone better for the role. She really captured the many “manic” moods that Shirley had. She could switch at the drop of a word and you didn’t know what you were going to get. Odessa Young as Rose really complimented Moss, and I could see and feel the friendship between the two women as much as I felt it in the book. They are the shining stars of the movie.
To rate each, I will give the book Shirley by Merrell a 5-star rating with no doubt. I was mesmerized and loved this book from the beginning to the end. As for the movie it’s a little harder. Moss and Young were brilliant, and for their performances alone I say a 5-star. But the movie I will say I can’t give more than a 3-star. I can say they delivered the psychological side of the book perfectly, but there was too much missing for me that I loved about the book that was just completely absent from the movie.
Follow HorrOrigins Social Media Pages