BBC Three

From Hulu's star-studded interpretation of Liane Moriaty's Nine Perfect Strangers to Adam Kay's bestselling This Is Going to Hurt becoming a miniseries on BBC Two, 2020 is shaping up to be a bonanza year for book-to-TV adaptations.

On Sunday, another literary sensation was given the small-screen treatment: Sally Rooney's bestselling millennial love story Normal People, about the on-off relationship of two young lovers as they navigate secondary school then college in Ireland.

To call the BBC Three series giddily awaited is an understatement. Not only has Normal People been one of the most discussed novels of the past two years, its adaptation was co-scripted by Rooney herself, alongside award-winning playwright and the story editor on HBO's thrillingly good Succession, Alice Birch. The pedigree appears to have paid off: Variety have called the show 'crushingly intimate'. For NME, it is a 'flawless romance', while Rolling Stone branded it 'a millennial love story for the ages'.

In short, it looks set to the TV hit of the lockdown since Tiger King.  And that got us thinking: what other recent novels would make brilliant television?

Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (2019)

Elevator pitch: A drama of loyalty, passion, justice and female identity set in Depression-era North America in which a group of intrepid horsewomen risk their lives to deliver books to the most remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains.

What's it about?

This enchanting novel is based on the real-life Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, who delivered books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt's traveling library program in the 1930s. Alice Wright marries American Bennett Van Cleave to escape the straightjacket of English life. But upon moving to Kentucky, she soon realises she has only swapped one cage for another.

So she joins a team of women who trek across landscapes as beautiful as they can be brutal, ferrying books to people who’ve never had any, arming them with words that change their lives forever. In Margery, Beth, Izzy, Sophie, and later on Kathleen, Alice finds a form of friendship, solace and comfort that she never knew was possible.

In spite of constant challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them, the women forge an unbreakable bond. Giver of Stars is an ode to the magical power of books and friendship – just what we all need right now.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (2020)

Elevator pitch: An extremely funny family psychodrama about love, loyalty, buried resentment and the secrets families keep from each other, set in modern Dublin, with a brilliantly varied cast.

What's is about?

Grown Ups tells the story of the Caseys, a happy family of high-achievers at surface-level, but who below flows a river of unresolved tension and turmoil. 

During one boozy get-together, the walls begin to crumble after Cara, under the combined effects of concussion and vodka lemon sorbet, suddenly announces, 'I’m bored out of my skull' and spills a string home truths that threaten to tear the family to pieces.

Shift back in time, the book then carries readers from family birthday party to retirement do to exotic weekend break, all while the tension builds like a storm cloud. It's a rich cast a characters and wrought with the sort of inter-familial rivalry that could well give fans of HBO's Succession a familiar tingle.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (2018)

Elevator pitch: A dystopian coming-of-age fairytale about three sisters imprisoned on a remote island by their all-powerful father, that explores uncomfortable truths around misogyny, cult power and the comfort of blind faith.

What's the story?

Sisters Grace, Lia and Sky have grown up on a deserted island, surrounded by a toxic sea. Brought up by a nameless mother and all-powerful cult-leader-type father named King, they believe the world outside is afflicted by a terrible plague, one that cannot reach them so long as they go along with their father's peculiar, sometimes painful, healing rituals.

The plague, King tells them, is spread by men. But when three male strangers wash up on the beach, their perceptions of reality begin to change drastically as the only life they've ever known disintegrates into the sea wind.

What Red Was by Rosie Price (2019)

Elevator pitch: A harrowing exploration of power, privilege, abuse and its aftermath, about a young woman whose life is turned inside out after a violent sexual assault by her aristocrat boyfriend's relative.

What's the story?

Kate is a lonely, introverted newcomer to an elite university. Max is a confident, outgoing aristocrat. They fall for each other, and Kate is soon swept up into Max's world of lavish parties and crumbling stately homes. She's in awe of his glitzy, fabulous life. But all this is destroyed when, at a summer party, she is sexually assaulted by a member of Max's family.

Unable to confide in anyone about the ordeal, her story becomes one of emotional survival as she struggles to come to terms with what happened to her. It is a visceral story that charges full tilt into perceptions of consent, shame and the taboo of sexual assault.

The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan (2017)

Elevator pitch: A gripping and claustrophobic romantic thriller-cum-murder mystery, set in London at the close of the Second World War, about post-war adjustment and jealousy.

What's the story?

In 1970s London, a newlywed couple move into a new home. But when the husband, digging in the garden, unearths a human skeleton wrapped in the roots of a sycamore tree, a police investigation reveals the remains to be those of a young mother, bludgeoned to death between 1945 and 1947.

Rewind to the dying days of the Second World War, and British spy Gus Clifton returns to London with a German bride, the mysterious Krista, all but broken by traumas she cannot share. Gus' sisters, Julia and Tilly, see only the enemy in Krista. And to his fiancee, Nella, the betrayal is visceral.

Only, behind closed doors, secrets abound and all is not rosy between Mr and Mrs Clifton. As the three friends struggle to come to terms with a German in their midst, not to mention the strange hold she has over Gus, they begin to wonder: to what lengths will they go to get rid of her? For the reader, the question is, whose body is it, really, beneath that sycamore tree?

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (2019)

Elevator pitch: A dying sex worker looks back on her life, English Patient-style, evoking a haunting but beautiful portrait of friendship and courage in a world of hardship and patriarchy.

What's the story?

From the first scene, we are immediately thrust into the mind of Tequila Leila, a sex worker dying in a rubbish bin on the edge of Istanbul. Her body is dead, but her brain cells still flicker, entering 'into a state of heightened awareness, observing the demise of the body but not ready to accept its own end'.

Her memory begins to flash through her life, from the free-spirited tailor's daughter rebelling against her conservative family with a pink hula hoop; to the horrific act of violence that changed the course of her life; to the various cruelties sex work inflics on a person, body and mind.

Undeniably harrowing, this story is ultimately a life-affirming one, convulsing with love, friendship and joy; a searing portrait of a complex society through the eyes of a single human soul.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (2019)

Elevator pitch: A millennial Bridget Jones-cum-Fleabag that tackles perceptions – in equally heartbreaking and hilarious measure – around diversity and black identity in Britain, racial stereotypes and the female experience.

What's it about?

A 26-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London is reaching her wits' end. Her work at a national newspaper, staffed primarily by white people, isn’t going swimmingly. And after a messy break up she descends into full-scale self-destruction mode by entering a conspiracy of bad relationships and worse decisions.

Surrounded by a vibrant cast of characters – from the yuck parade of awful men she dates to her ebullient but old-school Granny, Queenie navigates the ups and downs of a life wounded by personal trauma with an inspiring spirit. A fresh, witty and heart-warming portrait of a modern woman searching for meaning in the modern world.

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