‘The Undoing’: Is the New Nicole Kidman HBO Series Based on a Book?

With The Undoing, David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman return to HBO with another spell-binding drama. Their last venture, Big Little Lies, was based on a New York Times bestseller. So naturally, fans are wondering if The Undoing is based on a book as well. 

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in 'The Undoing'
Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in ‘The Undoing’ | Niko Tavernise/HBO

‘The Undoing’ is based on a 2014 novel

HBO’s The Undoing is an adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel, You Should Have Known. The book tells the story of a wealthy New York City couple whose world gets turned upside down after a local murder. 

But the HBO drama isn’t the first time Korelitz’s work has been seen on screen. The author’s 2009 story, Admission, was adapted into a film (of the same name) starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. 

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The author was inspired by a classic thriller

In a 2014 Q & A with Priscilla Gilman, Korelitz revealed that You Should Have Known was partly inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 psychological thriller, The Talented Mr. Ripley. She said that her fascination with sociopaths helped her create the characters for the story. 

“I have a longstanding obsession with (to quote Senator Al Franken) lies and the lying liars who tell them,” Korelitz explained. “I tend toward the superego end of the spectrum, myself, and people who are unburdened by conscience are just fascinating to me. Most of us (not I) are sure that they can spot a psychopath, but psychopaths operate with general impunity, regardless. I wondered what it would be like to be completely ignorant of the true nature of someone you live with and think you know well. Then I thought: wouldn’t it be interesting if that ignorant person were someone whose profession it was to know human nature — like, for example, a therapist?”

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HBO’s ‘The Undoing’ is slightly different from the book

The Undoing was adapted into a screenplay by Kelley, who took a few liberties with Korelitz’s story. For starters, the character of Jonathan Fraser — portrayed by Hugh Grant in the HBO series — does not appear in the book. And the murder victim, Elena (Matilda De Angelis), is named Malaga in the novel, and she does not have the same encounters with Grace (Nicole Kidman) as she does in the first episode of the series. 

In an interview with Oprah Mag, The Undoing director Susanna Bier explained how the show benefited from changing elements from the novel. “The best you can do with a good book if you want to dramatize it on screen, is do something else with it,” she suggested. “By doing that you maintain the actual qualities of the book, but you create something that is possibly different and something in its own right.”

The Undoing premiered on HBO on Oct. 25. The eight-episode season will air with weekly episodes, premiering every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST. 

It’s unclear if the series will have the same ending as the book, but fans will know for sure when the season finale airs on Dec. 13.