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.