HBO’s 'The Undoing' Is Way Different From the Book 'You Should Have Known'

Kayla Keegan
·4-min read
Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

From Good Housekeeping

Everyone loves a good heart-stopping psychological thriller — and The Undoing is exactly that.

The HBO limited series follows New York City socialite and high-powered therapist Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman), whose world comes crashing down when her husband, Jonathan (Hugh Grant), is suddenly accused of murdering a young artist named Elena Alves (Matilda di Angelis). Through several shocking discoveries, Grace comes to learn what really happened the night Elena was killed and the cold-hard truth she's been overlooking for so many years.

The show's storyline is based on the equally chilling 2014 novel You Should Have Known, written by Jean Hanff Korelitz. While there are many similarities between the book and the HBO show, The Undoing creator David E. Kelley and director Susanne Bier made several key changes to the plot to keep viewers on their toes.

"The best you can do with a good book, if you want to dramatize it on screen, is do something else with it," Susanne told OprahMag.com. "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."

Below, we lay out the major differences between The Undoing and You Should Have Known (warning: spoilers ahead!):

The central characters have different first and last names in the book.

Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM
Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM

Though they're called Grace and Jonathan Fraser in The Undoing, the Harvard sweethearts' surname is actually Sachs in the book. Likewise, Elena Alves is known as Malaga Alves in You Should Have Known.

Malaga is much less beguiling than Elena.

Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM
Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM

While the two are both mothers to a young son and daughter, the similarities between Elena and Malaga seemingly end there. In The Undoing, Elena is portrayed as both mysterious and enchanting. She's also particularly sexual with Grace in the gym locker room and on the elevator in the very first episode. Malaga, by contrast, is older and isn't sexualized in the book. She is also much less of a focus in You Should Have Known, whereas the show revolves entirely around figuring out who killed the young artist.

Jonathan is American in the book.

If we had to guess, making Jonathan British instead of American was not a purposeful creative choice in The Undoing. Instead, the change most likely had to do with the fact that Hugh, who is British, was cast as Jonathan.

It's clear from beginning of the novel that Jonathan killed Malaga.

Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM
Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM

Throughout the six-episode series, viewers are constantly given new clues about who Elena's killer could be. During some episodes, viewers wonder if Grace or her and Jonathan's son, Henry (Noah Jupe), could've committed the murder. At other times, Jonathan's lawyer, Haley Fitzgerald (Noma Dumezweni), tries to frame Elena's husband, Fernando (Ismael Cruz Córdova), as the killer. At one point, Haley even calls Fernando and Elena's preteen son, Miguel (Edan Alexander), to testify in court.

But in You Should Have Known, it's not really a mystery at all. The focus of the book is instead on Grace's reflections after Jonathan flees the scene of the crime. In other words, it's accepted early on that Jonathan is a sociopath and Malaga's murderer. In fact, Jonathan confesses to killing Malaga via a letter to Grace at the end of the book.

Like The Undoing, Jonathan is eventually arrested in the book. But unlike The Undoing, the murderous oncologist is caught while abroad and extradited back to the United States — no high-speed car chase and kidnapping of Henry takes place in You Should Have Known.

Malaga and Elena's violent deaths are different.

Five episodes of suspense later, Undoing viewers learn that Jonathan visited Elena the night of the school fundraiser and crushed her head with a sculpting hammer. Shockingly, Henry finds the hammer in the yard of Grace and Jonathan's beach house, runs it through a dishwasher, and attempts to hide the weapon in his violin case.

In the book, however, Jonathan stabs Malaga to death and there is no question over the whereabouts of the weapon. Still, the two deaths are similar in that the son is the one to find her body the next morning.

Grace isn't writing a self-help book in the series.

Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM
Photo credit: NIKOTAVERNISE.COM

In You Should Have Known, Grace's life becomes a horrible, ironic mess. Though she champions herself as an accomplished relationship therapist, Grace fails to see who her husband truly is. What's more, as she's forced to come to terms with Jonathan's crime, Grace is preparing to launch her new self-help book aptly entitled You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives Are Telling Them. Thinking she knew so much about the person she married, Grace learns the hard way that even she is susceptible to misreading people.

The self-help book storyline, which is so key to Jean's novel, doesn't make it into the HBO series at all. Instead, The Undoing briefly references Grace's clinical relationship knowledge at the beginning of the series when she's counseling others about choosing the right significant others.

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