Sep 3, 2007

Tideland by Mitch Cullin

The dead and the sleeping,
How they resemble one another.

This quote from The Epic of Gilgamesh opens this novel, and it sets the tone for the story. Jeliza-Rose, the narrator of Tideland, is an eleven-year-old girl whose parents are heroin addicts. Jeliza-Rose is “home schooled”, and her daily lessons consist in preparing her parents’ heroin doses. After her mother dies of an overdose, her father becomes afraid that the girl will be taken away from him, so he takes her to an abandoned Texas farm by the name of “What Rocks”, the place where his own mother lived before she died.

For reasons I cannot reveal, Jeliza-Rose’s father ends up being mostly absent. Alone in rural Texas and with barely anything to eat, she retreats further and further into the world of her imagination – a world where she converses with fireflies and dismembered Barbie doll heads, a world where the meadow is the bottom of the ocean and a great shark swims about, a world where ghosts and frightening Bog Men are on the loose. A world in which she’s not all alone.

I’ve seen reviews that compare Jeliza-Rose to Harper Lee’s Scout and to Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, and I can understand both these comparisons. She also has traces of Alice from Alice in Wonderland – a book that, incidentally, she loves and often quotes The biggest difference between the book and her own life is that her wonderland is much more bizarre and eerie than the one Alice finds.

Tideland is both frightening and delightful, both gothic and tender. In this story, the mundane and the fantastic go hand in hand perfectly. Ordinary things gain eerie contours when illuminated by the imagination of this lonely girl. Like most stories about abandoned or mistreated children, it can be quite disturbing, but through Jeliza-Rose’s eyes we see charming details in what would otherwise be a hopeless situation. Her imagination keeps her alive, because it helps her keep fear and despair away.

I read this novel as my first selection for the Book to Movie challenge. I’m also going to post this review on the RIP Challenge review site, though, because I think this book is a good suggestion for those still looking for books to read for the challenge. This is a Southern Gothic tale that is a little reminiscent of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

In the spirit of the Book to Movie challenge, I thought I’d also write about Terry Gilliam’s wonderful adaptation of this novel.

I watched the movie a few months ago – it was the reason why I became aware of the novel’s existence – and let me tell you, it is one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever seen. It probably helps that the novel is short, so there was no need to cut anything out.

But there’s more to it than that, of course. Terry Gilliam perfectly captured the mood of the story, its emotional undertones, and translated it beautifully onto another art form. The changes that were made are few, and they were necessary for it to work as a movie. The biggest difference between the novel and the movie is, for me, the fact that the movie manages to be slightly darker, but this is due to the fact that in the movie we actually see the horrific events that take place, whereas in the book they are softened by the narrative voice of a child - a child who reads them differently, more positively, so that she may keep despair at bay. Of course, this in itself is disturbing, but in a more subtle way.

Unfortunately, Tideland was not very well received. I do wonder how much the way it was marketed had to do with it – and Terry Gilliam wondered the same. It was this movie that was behind the famous “will direct for food” incident. I understand how the movie’s disturbing nature can make it hard to watch, but I also think that those who give it a chance will be enthralled by its dark, surreal beauty, and will find a tender story that is hard to forget.

For more on this, I recommend reading this article by Mr. Gilliam himself about the movie.


  1. Great review, it sounds like an ingriging book. I am adding it to my TBR list. It's nice to see a movie adaptation that is true to the book isn't it? I've added your review to the Book to Movie Challenge list.

  2. Wow, I have never heard of this. Both the book and the movie sound wonderful. I have to add this to my tbr list too.

  3. Oh Nymeth...once again you've made it impossible for me to resist adding another to the wish list! I'd never heard of the book or the movie.

    After reading your review yesterday, I immediately went to our library website and put a hold on The House with a Clock in its Walls. But Tideland...well, I think that sounds like one I really want to buy!

  4. What an interesting review! I hadn't heard of either the book or the movie, so I'm going to have to look for both of them. I have a hard time reading stories like this because I feel so intensely for the child, but you have explained it so well that I think I could handle it. I also like Terry Gilliam a lot, so I'd like to see what he did with the story in film form. Thanks for another good recommendation!

  5. I had no idea the movie was based on a book. I remember seeing trailers for the film and planning to see it and then it was here and gone with so little fanfare that I don't even remember it being here. It is one I want to see and your review has certainly encouraged me more. Glad to read about a faithful book to movie adaptation, that is rare!

  6. I love Terry Gilliam movies but had no idea this one was based on a book. Great review ... I'm adding it to my TBR list.

  7. Wow, I'd never heard of this one, but now I MUST have it! Great review!

  8. I hadn't heard of the book or the movie. I love books like this. I tend to like books that are very emotional and dig deep into the human psyche. This one sounds like a perfect fit. It sounds like a beautiful book. I love the cover too. Does it say who the artist is?

  9. Great Review, as usual!! Sounds like a really interesting book. Again, another one for my ever-growing list!!

  10. Callista: Thanks :) And yes, it really is nice, and a very rare thing!

    Nicola: It saddens me to see how little talked about this book and movie are. I hope you enjoy them when you get around to reading/watching them.

    Debi: I really hope you enjoy it. It seems that most people haven't heard about it, and I'm glad to be contributing in my own small way to spreading the word. I really look forward to seeing your and Annie's opinions on "The House with a Clock in its Walls"!

    Robin: I understand that feeling, but in this case the ending is hopeful, and that makes a big difference. You could start by watching the movie to see how you like the story - I think this is one of those rare instances in which watching the movie or reading the book first makes no difference, because the story is very much the same.

    Carl: It was the same here. The movie was showing for only a week, and I only had the chance to watch it when it was out on DVD. It really is too bad. While it's not a movie that could ever be a blockbuster, I'm sure that if it had been marketed properly it would have found its audience among those who enjoy dark stories. I didn't know there was a book either until the credits started rolling, and that too goes to show how little the movie was talked about.

    Bookgal: Thank you. I really like Terry Gilliam too.

    Andi: I hope you enjoy it!

    Chris: This is certainly one of those books. Unfortunately I can't tell you who the cover artist is - I ordered the book online, and this was the cover picture they had on the site, but when I received the book, it actually had the movie poster as a cover. I do like the movie poster, but I really wanted this cover because I love it so much. As I was also posting the movie poster, I decided to use this cover for my post anyway.

    Stephanie: Thanks :) My wishlist won't stop growing either, sigh.

  11. This sounds like a book and movie that I want to read/see. I haven't heard of either before and will definately add it to my wishlist. The story sounds intriging and a little like Alice Hoffman maybe.

  12. i am very glad to hear that this is good! the film looks so cool and i have been incredibly intrigued about both this and the film!

    thanks for the cool review.

  13. Thanks for your wonderful review and for bringing this book to my attention. It sounds like something I would really love to read.

  14. Rhinoa: I've heard of Alice Hoffman many times but I have yet to read her. Perhaps next year I will at least.

    Jean Pierre: It's a great movie, you really ought to watch it (and read the book, of course). And make sure you share your thoughts on it once you do!

    Framed: You're welcome :) It really makes me happy to know that I am bringing it to people's attention, because it seems like such an unfairly overlooked book (and movie).

  15. Wow--book and movie sound really good. Must add to reading/viewing lists.

  16. Oh, yeah, Terry Gilliam. I can imagine how well he did with a story like that. Excellent review, once again.


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