Our November pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is Katie Kitamura’s novel “A Separation.” Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.
Katie Kitamura’s “A Separation,” which follows a woman in search of her missing husband in fire-ravaged Greece, is a novel rich with cinematic atmosphere and tension. Kitamura says that wasn’t accidental. During her twenties, she worked on a documentary series about psychoanalysis and cinema, which she sees as having been as a kind of apprenticeship or master’s degree before writing this and other novels. “I learned a lot about character, psychology and narrative structure,” she said. “It follows that cinema is a big influence on my work.”
Below, Kitamura recommends a list of three psychological thriller films to watch alongside her novel — movies that follow the missing and murdered, and also walk the line between the real and the imagined. In her words:
“L’Avventura,” directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni
The premise of Antonioni’s masterpiece is arrestingly simple: A woman goes missing while on holiday off the coast of Sicily. In my novel, the man disappears rather than the woman, and the novel’s central consciousness belongs to the unnamed female narrator. But the landscape of L’Avventura was always pressing at the edges of the novel as I wrote. It’s sublime in the real sense of the word, and the visual proximity between the terrain in Mani (where my novel is set) and the setting in L’Avventura helped me in terms of creating atmosphere and tone.
“Le Boucher,” directed by Claude Chabrol
In “A Separation,” I wanted to create tension that didn’t rely on plot, and that was instead derived from character and atmosphere. Chabrol is really a master at this. “Le Boucher” stars Jean Yanne as a village butcher who falls in love with the local teacher, an impeccably dressed and coiffed Stéphane Audran. Then, a series of brutal murders unsettles the pastoral calm of the village. From the start, it’s relatively obvious who the culprit is – the title is a giveaway – but Chabrol has more chilling prey to stalk, and the result is a masterpiece in suspense and perversion.
“10:30P.M., Summer,” directed by Jules Dassin
This film, by blacklisted American director Jules Dassin, is based on the classic novella by Marguerite Duras. As with Le Boucher, murder is in the background. But the film is really about a knotty love triangle between a married couple (played by Dassin’s wife, Melina Mercouri, and Peter Finch) and a young Romy Schneider. There’s a setup that directly inspired a scene in my book: Mercouri’s character drifts off to sleep imagining her husband and her friend having sex. Dassin intercuts shots of the dozing Mercouri with shots of the fantasy sex scene; the effect is a vertiginous blurring of the line between the real and the imagined, which more or less sums up what I tried to achieve in my book.