(Warning! This blog contains plot spoilers)
I have just read ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ by Richard C. Morais and a very pleasant experience it was too.
The book was nice to hold, the font was pleasing, the writing was smooth and assured, the story had a flavour of realism to it which was satisfying, the characters and settings were deftly drawn, the facts were, to my mind, well-researched and the plot has a circularity to it which I relished.
So all good, yes?
Well yes, it would have been had I not already seen the film a few months ago. Yes, the film makers took the basic plot of the Haji family leaving Mumbai after the tragic death of Hassan’s mother, showed them travelling to various places before finally setting up a Indian restaurant opposite the gastronomic home of Madame Mallory in the small French town of Lumière.
In the film there then followed the stock conflict between Madame Mallory, the uptight, elderly, two-Michelin-starred chef and Hassan’s upstart, boisterous, loud and arm-waving father for control of the town’s custom. There also followed a sweet romance between Hassan and Madame Mallory’s sous-chef and lots of soft-focus shots of glorious food being gloriously prepared (something which the novel depicts with huge aplomb too). Eventually, however, the ambitious Hassan (as he does in the book) leaves the small, safe environment of Lumière for the heady heights of Parisian cuisine where, to his credit, he finally becomes disillusioned and returns to where his heart has always been and where he is to carry on Madame Mallory’s work with his sweetheart firmly at his side. Oh, and yes, in the meantime, his upstart, boisterous, loud and arm-waving father and the uptight, elderly, two-Michelin-starred chef have developed a romance of their own, even dancing with one another in her restaurant at night after everyone else has left for the evening.
But much of this doesn’t actually happen in the novel. Hassan leaves Lumière it’s true but he stays in Paris, he has relationships and responsibilities which do not appear in the film, his sister and his patron play a pivotal role in the success of his restaurant which do not appear in the film, Madame Mallory and his father die at their appointed times, again which does not happen in the film and, after marrying a brute and having two children, Madame Mallory’s sweet sous-chef reappears at the very end of the novel but, unlike the film, in the novel there is no happy ever after on the romance front for Hassan, just the nice circularity of his being given the third Michelin star which Madame Mallory had coveted all her life.
I noted in the acknowledgements that Mr Morais had always been keen for his book to be made into a film to honour his long-time and sadly-departed friend Ismail Merchant (of Merchant Ivory fame) but I am left wondering.
Is it that the film makers believed that a film of the book as it was written wouldn’t satisfy their film-going public or is the book not a satisfying enough story in the first place? Whatever the case, I feel I I have a foot in both the novel and the film but that I actually belong in neither and it would take me a journey of more than one hundred feet to bridge the gap!
I am not casting aspersions on either the novel or the film, I am just curious that’s all. Both are, after all, works that are high-quality and enjoyable and I guess should a film director come knocking on any novelist’s door, they would swing it open as wide as possible. I know I would!