The everlasting mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood

February 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

It was Valentine’s Day last week, and because I’m such a hopeless romantic I decided to read a book about murder, broken engagement and creepy obsessive love. I’ve been desperate to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood since seeing the BBC adaptation just after Christmas, mainly because I wanted to see where the book actually ended. I quite liked what the BBC did with it, but I’m not sure it was quite right. However there is no escaping the fact that Dickens only completed half the novel before his untimely death, and a suitably dramatic end had to be got from somewhere.

Edwin Drood the novel tells the story of a young couple betrothed from birth by their deceased parents. Rosa is at school in a nameless Cathedral town and Edwin comes to visit her, staying with his choir-master uncle John Jasper. Unfortunately this uncle is not quite as dedicated to his nephew as everyone thinks and is dangerously, obsessively infatuated with Rosa. Then one night Edwin disappears without a trace and suspicion falls on Neville Landless, another orphan, who with his sister Helena has just moved to the town from Ceylon to be educated. Finding themselves in the middle of this mystery are Rev. Crisparkle, Neville’s mentor, and Mr. Grewgious, Rosa’s guardian.

Edwin Drood was a bittersweet reading experience for me because it was so good (so, so good) that, to my constant disappointment, I kept forgetting it was unfinished. I was surprised how far into the mystery Dickens had progressed considering he had only got half way through and it makes me sad to think that perhaps he had some incredibly exciting twist to lay down that would have excited and delighted us all.  In a way I suppose it was quite nice of him to leave us a little mystery to ponder, and even though the novel is unfinished it still feels balanced. It ends with the mysterious Mr. Datchery, who has clearly taken up residence near the Cathedral to watch John Jasper, making a discovery to his benefit. I like to think that Mr. Grewgious employed Mr Datchery, who is clearly someone in disguise; Mr. Grewgious who is now officially one of my favourite Dickens characters (now there’s a subject for a post all on its own).

Dickens outlined the general plot of Edwin Drood in a letter to his friend John Forster, part of which you can read here, so we do kind of know what his intentions were. I’m being deliberately vague because I don’t want to be guilty of spoilers, but I am glad that the gold ring ended up playing a crucial part as I thought it would. Nothing is ever accidental or wasted with Dickens, there are connections everywhere. I also correctly guessed who Rosa was going to marry, because everyone always has to marry someone. This novel is definitely worth picking up, and may even be a good start for someone who hasn’t read much Dickens before; it is only 250 pages long and the plot is relatively simple for Dickens.

It seems like I haven’t really done much but read, eat and sleep lately and time seems to be going too quick. The weather was so beautiful yesterday that it felt like spring, which fills me with dread (though it is raining again now). It just makes me realise that the days when I’ll be expected to leave the house sans thick black tights are fast approaching. I am very much a coats and scarf girl, and have very pasty legs. Despite that it is very nice to feel that it is the end of January and February, two months so devoid of joy and light that I always feel compelled to sit on the sofa watching bad TV rather than engaging with a book. I have to find extra juicy, interesting things to tempt me out of the slump. This time last year I was reading M.R. James, a real treat of the sort that doesn’t come along very often at all.

I spent Saturday afternoon screaming in the cinema and hiding my face in my boyfriend’s shoulder.

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Film stills taken from here

I don’t really like to admit that I had to ask for help, but I don’t think I would have made it through the film of The Woman in Black without my boyfriend’s shoulder. Not even covering my eyes seemed sufficient. Before you write me off as completely lame I can tell you that the cinema was full of teenagers trying to be cool, and they were shrieking as loud as I was. Look at the second picture down; do you see the Woman in Black’s ghostly face? Now tell me that you could cope with that, and worse, happening repeatedly in front of you for two hours. I found myself in this regrettable situation because I love The Woman in Black, the novel, so incredibly hard. This is for the simple truth that Susan Hill writes ghost stories like M.R. James, who is dead and can write no more. If there is one author who I could forget I had ever read on a yearly basis it would be M.R. James, and I am glad that Susan Hill is reinvigorating this genre in similar creepy, creaky style. Eel Marsh House is so perfect, opening its fetid arms to embrace Arthur Kipps and drag him to his certain doom.

My love for this novel was always going to make the film problematic for me. The more I love a book the less I find I am able to watch film versions without being critical. I have to say the setting was perfect, the house and the marsh and the village looked exactly as did in my head, but as was to be expected there are many differences between the novel and the film. With more ghosts, some hideous on-screen child deaths and a collection of very odd Victorian children’s toys, everything that was hinted subtly at in the novel was brought to garish life on-screen. Also the beginning and end were completely changed. No biggie.

I think my main problem with the film as a whole was the decision to give Arthur a dead wife from the start, a wife lost in childbirth. This took away an element that was to me important in the success of the novel; the idea of Arthur Kipps as a fresh, unsullied, pragmatic young man rushing forward without a supernatural thought in his head. Daniel Radcliffe’s Arthur is already half-broken, and although he has his son to care for, the grave holds less terror for him. I won’t give away any important twists, but I also think that the passage of time between Arthur’s stay at Eel Marsh and the horrifying climax of the novel makes the final pages all the more shocking while the ending of the film just seemed inevitable from the start.

Perhaps these problems with the film are just my problems because I like the quiet, slow, menacing sort of terror rather than the jump-out-of-your-seat-screaming kind. I feel like the potential for this film to have been a truly classic, understated horror classic like Rosemary’s Baby has been sacrificed for cheap thrills. Maybe they don’t make films like that anymore though, and maybe I’m just sucking lemons at the back of the cinema whining about the ‘good old days’.

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TV free evenings with The Tiger’s Wife

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been making a huge effort to turn the TV off lately, and it’s making me feel calm. Last night I sat in bed with my cat friend and read 80 pages of A Dance with Dragons, and it was epic. I’m starting to feel a little disgusted with George R. R. Martin though; how can you be so cruel to your characters?

Over last weekend I read The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, to have a break from all the horror. Perhaps a novel about the death of a beloved Grandparent set across the backdrop of the Balkans conflict was not the best choice, but I’m think I’m pretty desensitised after Game of Thrones. I love folk tales and fairy tales, so I knew I was really going to enjoy Obreht’s first novel.

I don’t usually say this, in fact I usually say the opposite, but I think this book should have been longer. It was an epic undertaking, so the novel itself should be an epic. Another 300 pages would have given Obreht more time to flesh out Natalia, as it was I felt she was lost amongst the story she was telling and I didn’t feel a connection with her. The novel felt unfinished, and although I loved the stories with a story, the main narrative strand was drowned by them. I kept reading for the parts about the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man. I loved the clever, subtle little connection Obreht dropped in between them. It was blink and you miss it, but one of those things that marks Obreht out as a great writer. However, although I enjoyed the Tiger’s Wife and the Deathless Man as stand alone stories, I didn’t really see how they connected with the overall plot. I was expecting to find out something about Natalia’s Grandfather, but instead these were just things that had happened to him. Similarly, Natalia’s journey to collect his possessions from the clinic where he died was a bit of an anti-climax. I’m guessing the purpose was for her to discover that his copy of the Jungle Book was missing, therefore confirming the truth of the Deathless Man. It didn’t feel like enough of an ending though, and I finished the book profoundly unsatisfied. The writing was great and Obreht’s imagination is extraodinary, but I wanted more.

I know there’s been some controversy over The Tiger’s Wife winning the Orange Prize. I can’t really comment because I haven’t read any of the other books on the shortlist, but surely we should all be happy to see a young writer succeed rather than debating her worth. Also, she will make excellent use of the prize money and publicity that more established writers are perhaps not in such need of. I genuinely think that Obreht will go on to write many great things, and I’ll definitely look out for her next novel.

It’s been so cold this week, and we even had some snow. I’ve been reading A Dance with Dragons again, but slowly. Somehow I want to make it last forever.

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