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The English Patient is not the only film-of-the-book release this week - and it's not even the only non-linear tale of an ambiguous central character coming to terms with his life before and during the Second World War. In Mother Night, Keith Gordon's film of Kurt Vonnegut's American classic, Nick Nolte plays the spy/hero Howard W Campbell Jr, whose identity is slowly revealed as he writes his memoirs prior to a war-crimes trial in Israel in 1961. The film is perhaps more of a literal translation of its original source than The English Patient - and Vonnegut's walk-on part wryly acknowledges his narrative involvement. But, although Michael Ondaatje, in the preface to Minghella's screenplay, claims they "never wanted the film of The English Patient to be a dutiful version of the book", fans of the Booker Prize-winning novel would be traumatised if Minghella had not respected the spirit of the original.

Another Booker Prize-winner, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, was faithfully transcribed by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for Merchant Ivory, but the employment of a respected screenwriter is no guarantee of a successful transition from acclaimed novel to watchable film. Harold Pinter recreated the unsettling atmosphere of Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers, but somehow managed to make The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's feminist parable, bland on celluloid. Another acclaimed playwright, David Hare, turned Josephine Hart's best-seller Damage into a dull film, and (Jeremy Irons does pick 'em), Bille August's version of Isabel Allende's dynastic epic, The House of the Spirits, was so literal as to be indigestible. Conversely, adaptations of Trainspotting, Naked Lunch and The Unbearable Lightness of Being have proved that seemingly unfilmable novels often inspire imaginative, and revealing, adaptations.

As copies of Ondaatje's novel fly out of the country's bookstores, a successful adaptation, to which Irvine Welsh's bank manager would probably testify, undoubtedly increases more than just the author's celebrity. Film versions of Julian Barnes's Metroland, Pat Barker's Regeneration, Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda (another Booker-winner), starring Ralph Fiennes, are on the way. The book-of-the-film-of-the-book is probably in a store near you already.