Despite what producers would have you believe, there’s more to book adaptations on the small screen than Game of Thrones and endless – genuinely endless – remakes of Pride & Prejudice. Sherlock Holmes? Fuck off, Sherlock Go Holmes more like.
With Netflix taking great strides to bring greater variety to the stuff we lose our weekends to, we took aim at 13 books we feel deserve adaptation by the ever-more-powerful streaming giant.
(And don’t worry: There are no spoilers ahead, so you’ll be able to binge them all when Netflix invariably take note and nick all our ideas.)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Not a novelised sequel to Tarantino’s movie, this is a book about a young girl on holiday in a quiet English village who disappears. Villagers join the search for her, scouring nearby moors and reservoirs, but she is never found. Over the next 13 years, through the changing seasons, the aftershocks of tragedy affect the lives of those in the village.
Starring: An ensemble of great British actors feature in the cast, including Sean Bean, obviously, and Jodie Whittaker. Seriously, choose anyone: there are more than enough roles to go around.
Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
The first book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy follows FitzChivalry – bastard son of king-in-waiting Chivalry – as he is trained in the ways of the assassin from the age of six to his teens, amid the political and frequently deadly machinations of various royals with designs on the monarchy. Think Game of Thrones with a bit less incest but just as much murder. Even better, Hobb has actually finished all the books in the series already, so fans won’t be left hanging, wondering if the showrunners will mess it up when they leave the original source material behind.
Starring: Dylan Minnette from 13 Reasons Why stars as the teenage Fitz, with Ezra Miller as Fitz’s best friend, Fool.
Marching Powder by Rusty Young
The true story of British drug trafficker Thomas McFadden, who is arrested and incarcerated in the vast, lawless San Pedro Prison in Bolivia. When Australian backpacker Rusty Young meets McFadden on one of the illegal tours the latter conducts, showing tourists around the slum prison, he bribes the guards and stays for three months as McFadden’s cellmate, writing a book about his life as an international trafficker, his subsequent incarceration, and life in San Pedro Prison.
Starring: Chiwetel Eijofor as McFadden, with Liam Hemsworth as Young.
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
A series of interconnected dark, heartbreaking, funny tales, Diaz’s 2012 short story collection follows Dominican-American protagonist Yunior as he navigates life and love in New York City, exploring questions of masculinity, heritage, culture, identity, and infidelity. The writing is as fast and loose as the characters’ morals (especially the men) and each episode could adapt one of the nine stories in the collection, eight of which are narrated by Yunior, with the ninth, the brilliant ‘Otravida, Otravez’ narrated by Yasmin, a woman with whom Yunior’s father has an affair after migrating to New York from the Dominican Republic.
Starring: Rick Gonzalez of Coach Carter and Arrow stars as Yunior, with Zoe Saldana as Yasmin.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The first in a trilogy of novels by Cusk, Outline follows narrator Faye, a writer in her mid-40s, as she travels to Greece to teach a writing class. As she travels, Faye is told stories by those she meets; the man next to her on the plane, her students, friends she meets in restaurants. With her own backstory purposefully obscured, she meanders between encounters as strangers and acquaintances offload their troubles, usually to do with love, onto her. Faye listens intently to each, sensing that, even as they fail to ask about her life, each of them is relieved at the chance to be seen and heard.
Starring: Kate Winslet stars as Faye.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A sweeping historical epic that traces the lives and descendants of two women in West Africa: Effia, who is sold by her father to British slave trader James Collins for marriage, and her half-sister Esi, who is rounded up from her village to be sent to America and sold into slavery. Through seven generations, Homegoing explores the histories of Ghana and the US, and their dual roles in the slave trade. Even as Gyasi’s characters fall in love, make lives, and start families of their own, they can’t help but grapple with the effects of 250 years of slavery...
Starring: Keke Palmer as Effia, Quvenzhané Wallis as Esi, and Eddie Redmayne as James Collins.
The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla
We’re thinking a series of dramatised stories adapted from 2016’s breakout essay collection would suit this exploration of modern Britain through the words and experiences of 21 BAME writers. With episodes covering cultural appropriation, BAME representation on screen, institutional racism, and identity politics, the series presents a rich, wide-ranging, and frequently moving critique of post-Imperial Britain – not to mention a wholly-necessary one.
Starring: Riz Ahmed in the adaptation of his own viral essay, ‘Airports and Auditions’.
The Optimist by Sophie Kipner
California native Tabitha Gray redefines what it means to be a truly hopeless romantic. See, Tabby is an optimist – aggressively so – and no amount of failure, embarrassment, or humiliation can dent her fierce belief that real, true, lasting love is just around the corner. Each episode follows another of Tabitha’s cringe-worthy attempts at love, and her efforts, often in vein, to prove to those around her that true love is really out there...
Starring: Greta Gerwig as Tabby, and Tilda Swinton as her wine-loving mother, Twilda.
Magician by Raymond E. Feist
The first book in Feist’s epic Riftwar saga. In Crydee, Pug, an orphan boy, is apprenticed to a master magician. When the Kingdom is attacked by alien invaders, Pug and his friend Tomas are swept up into the conflict. As Pug continues his training and tries to find a way to close the rift, Tomas joins the fight. There’s enough in one book for several series, with the characters aging from teenagers into men.
Starring: Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things stars as Pug, with Spider-Man star Tom Holland as Tomas, and – as with all great fantasy adaptations – at least one role for Brian Blessed.
Murder in Mississippi by John Safran
A true-crime docuseries based on the book by Australian journalist John Safran, Murder in Mississippi investigates the murder of a white supremacist by a young black man, and uncovers the strange nature of their relationship. Safran, a TV presenter in the Louis Theroux mold, had once made a documentary on the victim, and as he returns to to Mississippi to investigate the murder the American South hosts his fish-out-of-water view of local customs, history and race. A troubling and timely examination of modern America in the style of Making a Murderer and The Keepers.
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Adapted from Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel/story collection hybrid, we’re thinking a 13-episode series following a set of interconnected characters orbiting the music industry in New York and California. Think HBO’s Vinyl, only not terrible. Goon Squad moves back and forth in time, from a family safari in 1973, to the early ‘80s punk movement, through to present day adulthood friendships, affairs, dates, and deaths, ending in the early years of the 2020s.
The characters age up and down, but at various points, starring: Emily Blunt as Sasha, Matthew Rhys as Bennie, David Duchovny as Lou, Vince Vaughn as Bosco, Parker Posey as Jocelyn, and Viggo Mortensen as Scotty.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayesha Malik
Sofia is a young Muslim woman living in London, navigating work in publishing and her dating life. After she leaves her boyfriend when he expects her to move in with his parents, Sofia is thrust back into the Muslim dating world, and the result is a romantic comedy in Bridget Jones vein, with mishaps, friendships, and romance operating – refreshingly – out of the cultural cliches such fiction often leans on.
Starring: Afshan Azad from the Harry Potter films stars as Sofia Khan.
The Wicked + The Divine by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Every 90 years, the ancient gods are reincarnated in the bodies of teenage hosts, in a process known as The Recurrence. ‘The Pantheon’ are granted fame and supernatural powers for two years, at which point the hosts die, and the next cycle begins. The 2010s Recurrence sees the Pantheon celebrated as pop stars.
Starring: Simona Brown as Laura Wilson, Iris Law as Lucifer, John Boyega as Baal, Harry Styles as Baphomet.