‘The Undoing’: Here Are the Major Differences Between the TV Show and the Book

If you enjoyed Big Little Lies, you probably just finished binge-watching producer David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman‘s latest HBO drama series, The Undoing. The six-episode miniseries is a stunning whirlwind of mystery, crime, and intrigue.

In the series, Kidman stars as Dr. Grace Fraser, a successful therapist living in New York City with her husband, Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant), a renowned doctor, and their teen son, Henry. However, when Jonathan is accused of murdering a young mother whose son attends Henry’s school, Grace’s world begins to spiral out of control.

The series is based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel You Should Have Known, but there are some major differences between the TV series and the book.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from The Undoing.]

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

Elena Alves only exist in ‘The Undoing’

In The Undoing, Jonathan is accused of murdering Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis), a young and stunning young mother whose son attends the prestigious Rearden school with the Fraser’s son, Henry (Noah Jupe).

From the moment we meet Elena on the TV show, she is enticing and sensual, but it’s also clear that she’s hiding something. In the book, Jonathan is accused of murdering a woman named Malaga Alves. Though Malaga’s young son also attends Reardon, she’s not the young sexy woman portrayed in the TV show.

Malaga became Elena in the show so that she could have a bigger role. Also, in the book, Korelitz was accused of leaning into Latinx stereotypes in his description of her so the series wanted to change that.

There murder mystery in only in ‘The Undoing’

Though Jonathan is accused of murder in The Undoing, it does not become clear that he actually killed Elena until the very last episode when Grace realizes that her husband is a sociopath. However, in You Should Have Known, it’s always clear that Jonathan is responsible for Malaga’s violent death.

Since Jonathan is on the run from his crime in most of the book, there is never even a trial. By the end, he confesses to Grace in a letter and is extradited back to the United States. However, in The Undoing, Elena’s husband, Fernando Alves (Ismael Cruz Córdova), Grace, Henry, and Grace’s father, Franklin (Donald Sutherland) are all suspects. The Undoing director Susanne Bier told Marie Claire,

It was always going to be Jonathan who killed Elena…Although the series uses the book [as inspiration] for the first two episodes, it does use the book as a kind of conceptual framework. That whole notion to ‘regulate the truth,’ to massage the truth into what we want it to be, is such a big important issue that we all felt we were doing a really fun and really entertaining whodunit twist and turn but at the core of it was that [book’s philosophy].


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Jonathan kills his little brother in the book

In The Undoing, Grace learns that at age 14, Jonathan was tasked with watching his 4-year-old sister. The little girl died when she got out of the house and was struck by a car. Grace’s mother tells Jonathan that he had no remorse.

However, in the book, Jonathan was left to care for his little brother, who had gotten the flu. Instead, teen Jonathan locked his little brother out in the cold, allowing him to get increasingly more ill, so by the time their parents returned, nothing could be done.