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5 books you should read before you watch the TV series

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By Eva Hall
09th Apr 2020
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5 books you should read before you watch the TV series

It’s the great debate we’ll be having when we’re allowed back down the pub: was the book better than the telly version? Here are five written works we rate more than their screen adaptations.


Twitter was alight last week when it was announced the highly anticipated TV series of Normal People, based on the award-winning novel by Irish writer Sally Rooney, will air on RTÉ this spring.

The 12-part series, made for the BBC by Irish Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson, is expected to be true to the book that charts the coming-of-age of a Sligo man and woman as they navigate their way from their teenage years to their Trinity College days.

Normal People, published in 2018, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Eason Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, sponsored by An Post, the same year.

While we’ll definitely be tuning in to the TV series (also available on Hulu), it got us thinking of other written works that have been adapted for the screen, and how they compare to their hardback counterparts.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, €19.50

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and won a slew of awards, including the 1985 Governor General’s Award and was nominated for the 1986 Booker Prize. The book has never been out of print, and thanks to a 2017 TV adaptation for Hulu, the story of Offred and Gilead is firmly in the mainstream.

Set in the future after a Christian group overthrows the United States government and kills the president, The Handmaid’s Tale is a first-person narrative from Offred, a mother and wife now forced to bear children for the commanders of Gilead. Offred is just one of thousands of handmaids living in the new totalitarian state.

The book has gone on to inspire operas, a 1990 big-screen adaptation and numerous pop culture and political references with fans of the book often dressing as handmaids wearing red cloaks and white veils to protest against controls over women and their reproductive rights. Canadian author Atwood has herself said the description of her book as a “feminist dystopia” is not strictly accurate.

While the TV series is undoubtedly very edge-of-your-seat drama, it has slightly altered characters’ arcs and even removed some, ultimately making it a difficult watch at times. The book contains more chinks of light and hope that will leave the reader wanting more.

And Atwood has delivered on that too, with her sequel, The Testaments, being published last year. You can expect a TV series based on that book too.

2. Dublin Murders

In The Woods by Tana French, €12.95

The Likeness by Tana French, €12.60

Tana French, an American-born writer who has made Dublin her home for the last 30 years, wrote a series of five novels known as the Dublin Murder Squad. The first two books in the series, In The Woods (2007) and The Likeness (2008), were adapted for an eight-part series for the BBC, Starz and RTÉ.

A stellar Irish cast of Sarah Greene, Killian Scott, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Moe Dunford lead the series, which broadcast in October of last year.

The murder mystery follows two Irish detectives as they investigate the killing of a 12-year-old girl. But one of the detectives is holding a dark secret that could link him to the crime. In The Woods won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, the 2008 Barry Award for Best First Novel and the 2008 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel.

A second series has been commissioned based on the next novels in the Dublin Murder Squad series. But you can read them all now.


Read more: 6 bedtime reads to soothe your child’s Covid-19 anxiety

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3. Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, €7.50

You know it as the wildly successful HBO TV series with a stellar cast and crew of Oscar winners such as Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern. But did you know Big Little Lies was adapted for the small screen from Australian author Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name?

Moriarty’s book was set in Sydney’s Northern Beaches rather than Monterey in California where the TV show is set. The book and TV show have all the same bells and whistles: Madeline Martha Mackenzie is the same busy-body PTA mom you don’t want to meet at the school gates; Bonnie is the same hippy-dippy mom you envy; Perry is as repugnant as any villain.

But the ending of the book, while described as “chaotic” by some reviewers, definitely has more detail than the show’s season two finale, and ties up a few more loose ends than the show. Both are worth reading and watching while in self-isolation for an escape from reality.

4. Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, €25

This book by Celeste Ng is set in Ohio in the 1990s. It’s full of twists and turns, with characters that are so well planned out it makes sense that it’s set in Ng’s own hometown.

Without giving too much away, Little Fires Everywhere uncovers deep family secrets from a number of characters, while exploring themes of race, class, motherhood, identity and socio-economic differences.

Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are starring as lead characters Elena and Mia, alongside Joshua Jackson who plays Bill in the Hulu TV series. It’s been airing in America since March 2020, but you can read the 2017 novel now before we get the eight-part series on Irish shores.

5.  Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, €6.80

Eoin Colfer’s young adult comedy spy thriller has been in the works for a big-screen adaptation with Disney for what seems like forever, but 2020 is the year it’s finally getting a release date, with May 2020 earmarked on the newly launched Disney+.

Kenneth Branagh is in the director’s chair, with impressive names such as Colin Farrell, Josh Gad and Judi Dench all landing starring roles. And while we’ll be first in line to subscribe to the streaming service to see this Irish success story come to life, it’s only right that Colfer’s writing gets its time in the sun too.

Artemis Fowl, the first book of which was published in 2001 and which the film is based on, follows 12-year-old prodigy Artemis Fowl II who has dedicated his life to his family’s criminal empire. After confirming that fairies do exist, Fowl sets out on a mission to Vietnam to obtain The Book of the People – the Fairy Holy Book that is written in Gnommish.

This is the start of a wild caper involving fairies, trolls and elves, and plenty of belly laughs in between. The Artemis Fowl series contains eight novels in total. The Last Guardian, the final book in the series, won the 2012 Irish Book Award, now sponsored by An Post, in the Irish Children’s Book Senior category.


Main image: Normal People, BBC/Element Pictures

An Post is sponsor of the Irish Book Awards. For more information, see here.

For more on the An Post InstaStory Club, in partnership with IMAGE, see here.