Just finished Nick Hornby's first book, High Fidelity - a witty, wonderful, and swift read. (I was going to go with 'whirlwind' for the perfect alliteration, but that's not really accurate to the book, and 'swift' does just as good a job on the poetic front, I think.) I came to the book in a rather roundabout way. First, I saw the John Cusack movie from 2000, not even knowing it was based on a book. Next, I read About a Boy, Hornby's second book (loved it). Then I saw the Hugh Grant movie from 2002 (liked it). Finally, I read Hornby's first book.
The John Cusack movie is about an American who owns a record store in Chicago. The book is about a Brit who who owns a record shop in Camden. The move folks evidently saw it as no problem at all to change the setting, and the movie was fairly successful as far as I recall so perhaps they were right. And yet, the book is nothing like the movie, and the difference is really all to do with the setting. Both movie and book are about two things: music, and relationships (to family, to friends, to lovers). Despite the fact that the story tries to tap into certain commonalities in the human condition concerning music and relationships, those variables change dramatically when one switches countries. Our protaganist's relation to his parents is thoroughly English in the book; his central relationship is refracted through his one-night stand with an American singer-songwriter and it's crucial that she's American; all of the norms of couples are distinctly different in the British context, with marriage playing much less of a role; all of the commentary on class, status, fashion, trends, etc. play out through the demographics of London neighborhoods; and the humour is, obviously, unique as well. In short, the book tells a completely different story than the one in the movie.
Or, to put it differently, there's a significant amount of cultural translation going on when one makes the move from 'pubs' to "bars," from 'mates' to "friends," from 'snoggging' to "making out." (None of this is to mention 'shagging', a term for which I can't think of even a good rough translation - "sex" seems too clean and clinical and "fucking" too crude to get at it.)
Of course, it's obvious why this all fascinates me. Just as Hollywood assumes the simple translation from UK to US context (and back again), so do most Americans (and probably a majority of Brits as well). And yet, in the lived experience the sameness is all so very different. And if that doesn't make any sense, then rent the DVD and read the book (in whatever order you please) and I think you'll see what I'm getting at/living.