Why, Hollywood?

I was so excited when I saw there’s a movie of A.S.Byatt’s “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye”. (spoiler alert: I’m gonna reveal the plot of the movie AND the eponymous novella.) And, I liked the beginning, with the scenes of Sheba. But I was hoping for more panoramic scenery, views of Istanbul, etc…instead the movie takes place pretty much all in two interiors: the heroine’s hotel room and later, her apartment in England.
Also at the beginning I wondered how they were gonna “youthen” Tilda Swinton’s face at the end. Because in the book she buys an old glass bottle in the bazaar,the genie emerges when she scrubs it, they have a long discussion concerning various myths and fairy tales, in which she’s. Scholarly expert—and finally, she makes her wish:
she wishes for her body to look the way it did the last time she really liked it.
Granted! She is presently, idk, maybe 58 or so, but she LOOKS 34! She’s very happy, and the djinn congratulates her on the wisdom of her choice.
I can’t remember her other wishes. Maybe she wishes freedom for the djinn. And they DO kinda fall in love, but she doesn’t WISH for the djinn to love her, as she does in the movie. She asks if, maybe, he would visit her again sometime—IF he remembers her, because as she understands, he is an immortal and you accumulate a lotta memories over eternity—and he says he will—IF he remembers.
That’s the end, to my recollection. She doesn’t take him back to England and keep him as a love-slave, only to eventually release him after a saccharine soliloquy about how now she know you can’t mandate love by fiat. There certainly isnt anything like the gratuitous scene in the movie where her two very white, very English old neighbors rail against blacks moving into the neighborhood (Idris Elba plays the djinn) which is puzzling anyway because the djinn is invisible to them.
My question is, if Hollywood (whoever that is) didn’t think the original story was gripping enough, why make a movie of it?
And if “they” DID realize it’s a great story, why didn’t they stick to it as written?


A writer and her editor are taking a hike in the country to celebrate the publication of the latest book on which they collaborated. The day was hot and they’d neglected to bring water, so were delighted to come across a small pond in a forested patch. The writer bent down to scoop up some water and was horrified to see the editor urinating into the other side of the pond. Shocked, she said, “What are you doing?” The editor replied, “I’m improving it.”

That’s Hollywood—they’re improving it.


Just a correction: It is not Istanbul. It is Occupied Constantinople. Carry on.


Hiya Hypatia,

Thank you so much for this post. I read Possession with great attention. Certain aspects were entirely entrancing and compelling, most importantly for me the theme of true love between intellectual equals, as opposed to what the village, so to speak, was urging one to pursue or accept. Not a surprise, given my own childhood experience.

In time, I came to reject the protagonist-lady as self-involved, rigid, and dirigiste. I came to reject the masculine love-interest dude as a complete wimp, sitting on the floor making up rhymes while she sits at a proper desk, and so on.

In this Djinn novel I pick up certain similar things, based totally on this your review.

First, she scrubs an old bottle in order to coax out a genie. Come on, are we liberated here or are we lame? Then she has a long discussion with a genie about fairy tales. She is a scholarly expert on fairy tales? This is some kind of advance? How about history, and metaphysics, and ethics as evinced in literature - you know, things that might matter at least a little bit?

!And then she wishes for a youthful body. Give me a break. What, Byatt, are you doing for the team here? How about a wish for wisdom, amity among humankind, something like that? This character seems to be perfect for the right sidebar on some tabloid page.

This character would have been better off starting some business, locally-based, and marrying an actual man.

So this is my guess: Hollywood loved this storyline in part because it is nonsense.

And this is my question: Dear H, you seem to have liked this novel. Why and for what? Byatt writes well and is intruiguing, but oh dear oh dear. Let me know; I like to revisit these things.


Why do I like the novella? It’s well-written, for one thing. And I enjoyed the discussions about mythology and folk tales. To me, since I have long-standing interest in our human stories, that didn’t seem boring or inconsequential. Plus it’s gotta be idk how many years since I read it, and I still remember the characters, which is one of my personal criteria for a good novel.

BTW I see I didn’t tell you the name of the movie! It’s Three Thousand Years of Longing.

As for the wish the heroine makes: well, quite literally, wish fulfillment! Although I reckon it is just a twist on the old saw,”youth is wasted on the young”…(—clever the way she avoids all the usual traps: don’t just blurt out a wish “to be young again”—, you might end up as a squalling infant! ).
My main point here, though, was that the movie altered the book so much—and why?
So…didn’t like Posession? I really did! (I saw the movie, too, but I don’t remember much about it, mainly the Brittany landscapes.)

Another of my absolute faves of Byatt’s is her tetralogy:
The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower (especially!) and Whistling Woman. I think you, @jzdro will like the heroine of those books better than you like the heroines of Possession and The Djinn…

And then, there’s her last, The Children’s Book. Made me wish she could rejuvenate like the heroine of Djinn, and go on writing forever.



Yuppers! Related to that is feeling disconsolate when their book is over and so they leave the stage of your imagination. And then they stage revivals in your head, at odd moments afterwards.

As for the wishes, I’d hope a character would wish for health before “youthful body.” After all, that genie might be the Devil in disguise and throw in a kicker, like, oh, youthful body with buck teeth, or something. Did she check the genie’s slippers?? Were they split into two big toes, like the Devil and Daniel Webster? If so, I would hope she would spend some time carefully sniffing the air for sulphur fumes.

Possession entranced me with the Tennyson business; I mean the “Ash” character and drama. What made me sad was the Kendi-style drawn-out vengeance carried on by the modern-day female protagonist. She was living the dream requiring, as a cure for x-on-y oppression, her own manner of y-on-x oppression.

Well, on your recommendation, which I appreciate, I will try the others.

Sympathies on the Hollywood business. Only one film in my experience was better than the novel: Our Mutual Friend. It was tighter, better paced, and so a better tale compared to the book, I thought.


She doesn’t wish for “eternal youth”, she wishes her body would look the way it did the last time she herself reeely liked it. So I reckon that would cover elimination of any painful or disfiguring conditions.

I should probably re-read Possession; I don’t remember the heroine’s “ldrawn out vengeance”. It was as I recall a mystery within a mystery, with the clues fairly handled :”You have made a murderer out of me,”

But yes, Byatt is a prog. Maybe she doesn’t mind all the woke crap inserted by Hollywood into her fantasy. I’m just saying it isn’t there in the original.