Six Degrees of Separation: from Vanity Fair to Oliver Twist

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with with Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I read this book in December 2004 (I know this as I’d written the date at the front of the book). I loved it. I didn’t watch the recent TV adaptation, not wanting to lose my own mental pictures of the characters and it always irritates me when adaptations move away from the original story.

Vanity Fair

 

The main character in Vanity Fair is Becky Sharp, an orphan who was brought up at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for young ladies in Chiswick Mall, which leads me to my first link in the chain –

Pinkerton’s Sister by Rushforth. The main character is Alice Pinkerton who is most definitely eccentric. The book begins: ‘The madwoman in the attic was standing at the window.’  It’s a bizarre story, funny, even ludicrous at times, full of literary and musical references and I got lost in it for hours. It’s a very long and detailed book and I don’t suppose it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

Pinkerton's Sister

My second link followed on naturally to another book by Peter Rushforth, A Dead Language. I was disappointed with this book as it was so hard to understand what was going on – it’s about Alice’s brother Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, the young naval lieutenant who abandoned Madame Butterfly as he is about to set sail for Japan. It is strange and I didn’t finish it.

A Dead Language

It leads me on to another book with ‘dead’ in the title – The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer. This is about Eve Singer, a TV crime reporter, who will go to any length to get the latest scoop. But when a twisted serial killer starts using her to gain the publicity he craves, Eve must decide how far she’s willing to go – and how close she’ll let him get.

The Beautiful Dead

The fantastic TV drama Killing Eve is based on Codename Villanelle, a series of novellas by  Luke Jennings.  Eve Polastri, a desk-bound MI5 officer, begins to track down talented psychopathic assassin Villanelle, while both women become obsessed with each other.

Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle

In Worth Killing For by Ed James  DI Simon Fenchurch witnesses a murder when a woman is attacked by a young hoodie on a bike, who snatches her mobile and handbag. The hoodie is part of a phone-theft gang, run by the mysterious Kamal.

This reminded me so much of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, in which young boys are recruited by Fagan to ‘pick-a pocket-or two’. After running away from the workhouse  Oliver is lured into a den of thieves peopled by vivid and memorable characters – the Artful Dodger, vicious burglar Bill Sikes, his dog Bull’s Eye, prostitute Nancy, and the cunning master-thief Fagin.

Oliver Twist

I am so surprised at where this chain has ended – from one classic to another, both about an orphan, but very different in style. Both Vanity Fair and Oliver Twist were first published as serials, before being published as books – Vanity Fair in 1847-48 and Oliver Twist in 1837-39. In between it has passed through two rather strange literary novels and three books focusing on death and murder!

Next month (December 1, 2018), we’ll begin with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Partners in Crime – The Secret Adversary: Tommy and Tuppence

Well, I suppose I should have expected this – I was looking forward to the new BBC1 series of the Tommy and Tuppence stories, Partners in Crime advertised as ‘loosely based‘ on Agatha Christie’s novels, but the first episode was last night ,The Secret Adversary was disappointing to say the least as not much of Agatha Christie’s story was left.  I knew it had been moved to the 1950s instead of the 1920s and was wondering what else had been changed.

Well, practically everything else, so much so that most of it bore no resemblance to the original. It was not only the wrong era but also the characters were different – TV Tommy, as David Walliams played him for most of the episode, is a bumbling fool who had not taken part in the War due to being wounded by a delivery van (I think that’s what the TV Tommy said), with a vacant look on his face , and obsessed with bees. Tommy and Tuppence as described by Agatha Christie are ‘˜an essentially modern-looking couple’, childhood friends who after the First World War were both stony broke and who decided to set up a joint venture under the name of the Young Adventurers Ltd, initially intending to hire themselves out to commit crimes.The ‘real’ Tommy had been wounded in the War, not once but twice, Tommy and Tuppence never met Jane Finn and Julius Hersheimmer was a young white man who says he is Jane’s cousin – not her uncle. I could go on!

OK, so it was easy watching, Jessica Raine made a good, meddling and determined Tuppence and it was amusing at times. But to enjoy this I’ll have to forget it has any connection with Agatha Christie whatsoever and I don’t know that I can do that, for the next five episodes. It’s so annoying to keep saying ‘it’s not like that in the book’.

Agatha Christie: Tommy and Tuppence

Tomorrow night sees the start of a new six part series on BBC1 – Partners in Crime. According to the Radio Times the episodes are loosely based on The Secret Adversary, the first of the Tommy and Tuppence stories and N or M?, the third story.

But, as I have come to expect with TV/film adaptations, this is not the original story as the action has been transposed from 1922 and 1940 (the original settings of these two books) to the 1950s. Still I have great hopes for the series, with David Walliams as Tommy and Jessica Raine as Tuppence, although I’m wondering what else has been changed.

This is what I wrote about The Secret Adversary in January 2011:

The Secret Adversary was first published in 1922. It was Agatha Christie’s second book and the first featuring Tommy and Tuppence. In this book they have just met up after World War One, both in their twenties: ‘˜an essentially modern-looking couple’. They are both stony broke and decide to set up a joint venture under the name of the Young Adventurers Ltd, initially intending to hire themselves out to commit crimes.

A Mr Whittington overhears their conversation and offers Tuppence their first assignment, but when she tells him her name is ‘˜Jane Finn’ he acts very strangely and thinks she is blackmailing him. From then on Tommy and Tuppence set out to find Jane Finn, a name Tommy had overheard from a conversation in the street.

Reading it reminded somewhat of Enid Blyton’s adventure books, mixed up with P G Wodehouse’s books. It’s a spy/detective story that is fast and furious with Tommy and Tuppence landing themselves in all sorts of dangerous situations. It’s also full of red herrings and they’re never very sure who they can trust. Tommy and Tuppence advertise for information relating to Jane Finn and have two responses. One is from Mr Carter, from British Intelligence who tells them that Jane Finn, a survivor from the torpedoed Lusitania, was handed a certain document ‘“ a secret agreement, with a ‘˜new and deadly significance’. The second response is from Mr Julius P Hersheimmer, a young American, who says he is Jane’s cousin and wants to find her.

Just who is the mysterious Mr Brown, the secretive mastermind behind a plot to unite all of England’s enemies, overthrow the government and cause anarchy?  There is no clue to his real identity, he remains elusive and always in the background. But it becomes clear that he is one of two people and as I read I swung from believing it to be one character to the other.

One point of interest is the brief mention of Inspector Japp, of Scotland Yard. His role in this is merely incidental.

I enjoyed this book and I liked Tommy and Tuppence, who by the end realise they are in love. Agatha Christie only wrote five books featuring this couple. Unlike Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence age as the books were written (links to my posts):

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 378 KB
Print Length: 229 pages
Source: Project Gutenberg E-Book

The Outcast by Sadie Jones: Book and TV

The Outcast

As I wrote earlier The Outcast by Sadie Jones is a book that has sat unread on my shelves for seven years until I noticed that it was being broadcast as a TV drama. I read half the book before the first episode and finished it before the second episode was broadcast.

First of all the blurb from Goodreads:

1957, and Lewis Aldridge is travelling back to his home in the South of England. He is straight out of jail and nineteen years old. His return will trigger the implosion not just of his family, but of a whole community. A decade earlier, his father’s homecoming casts a different shape. The war is over and Gilbert has recently been demobbed. He reverts easily to suburban life – cocktails at six thirty, church on Sundays – but his wife and young son resist the stuffy routine. Lewis and his mother escape to the woods for picnics, just as they did in wartime days. Nobody is surprised that Gilbert’s wife counters convention, but they are all shocked when, after one of their jaunts, Lewis comes back without her. Not far away, Kit Carmichael keeps watch. She has always understood more than most, not least from what she has been dealt by her own father’s hand. Lewis’s grief and burgeoning rage are all too plain, and Kit makes a private vow to help. But in her attempts to set them both free, she fails to predict the painful and horrifying secrets that must first be forced into the open. As menacing as it is beautiful, The Outcast is a devastating portrait of small-town hypocrisy from an astonishing new voice.

The TV adaptation, also written by Sadie Jones is faithful to the book, so for once I could enjoy them both – although maybe enjoy isn’t quite the right word. The TV drama is, of course a condensed version and whilst the cast was good the characters didn’t, of course, match up to my mental image of them whilst reading the book. I thought the boy (Finn Elliot) playing the young Lewis was excellent, whereas the adult Lewis (George MacKay) just didn’t seem to be right physically in episode one. However, he was much more convincing in the second episode. Overall, the themes of the book and the drama are relentlessly depressing, in post-war Britain, the men all maintaining a stiff upper lip, emotions securely repressed. Lewis witnessing his mother’s drowning is unable to express his grief and things just go from bad to worse as he resorts to self-harm.

Meanwhile, the Carmichael family, not fully portrayed in episode one, have a secret, again closely guarded in a world where child abuse is just not acknowledged. In episode two the secret comes out in a dramatic scene, which I thought was really well done. Nathaniel Parker as Dicky Carmichael made a terrifying bully and Jessica Barden as the teenager, Kit was impressive.

The book is written in the passive 3rd person narrative, which I wasn’t keen on. I didn’t like most of the characters, I didn’t like what happened to them and I’m not sure the ending is believable – it left me wondering what really happened next. But the descriptive passages are good, the characters of Lewis and Kit are well-defined, emotions are racked up high and it is truly tragic.

I’m glad I read the book before watching the drama – and I’m glad I watched it, the scenery is beautiful and the repressed and yet emotional atmosphere came over better than in the book.  I did have to watch behind my fingers at some scenes, which I was able to read without visualising them completely, but when it’s there in front of you on the screen it’s not so easy to cast a blind eye. Although you get an insight into Lewis’ mind and feelings when you read a description of him cutting his arm, it’s not as real as seeing it happen.

So, a powerful story, which compelled me to read on and also to watch. This was Sadie Jones’ debut novel. She has since written Small Wars (2009), The Uninvited Guests (2012) and Fallout (2014). I have Small Wars amongst my TBRs – I must dig that one out soon.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR 2015 and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2015.

The Outcast by Sadie Jones

I noticed trailers for a new drama on BBC for The Outcast and wondered if it’s based on the book of the same name by Sadie Jones ‘“ a book that has sat on my shelves for a few years (well nearly 7 years) and I still haven’t read it. That’s what happens when you move house, box the books and then double shelve them, putting this one at the back! It was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2008.

And it is the same book (although my copy being much older has a different cover) ‘“ the TV version begins tomorrow on BBC One at 9 pm. It’s been adapted by Sadie Jones, so I hope this means it’s faithful to the book. I’ve started to read it ‘“ won’t finish it by tomorrow night but will definitely finish it before the second episode is broadcast the following Sunday.

It’s set in the 1950s, when Lewis Aldridge aged nineteen, is released from jail, and returns to the village where he grew up: the village where, a decade earlier, tragedy tore his family apart, leaving him to a troubled adolescence with a father he barely knew.

Greenshaw's Folly: a Miss Marple Mystery

Agatha Christie’s Marple last night was Greenshaw’s Folly. I saw in the Radio Times that it was based on Christie’s short story of the same name and so I read it before watching the programme. It’s less than 20 pages and I wondered how the script writers were going to make it last 2 hours, even with the advert breaks. Well, of course, they padded out with other plot elements and characters. And there are more murders, and some farcical scenes with policemen running wild – all a bit of a mess really, but lightly done.

Greenshaw’s Folly is a house, visited by Raymond West (Miss Marple’s nephew), who does not appear in the TV version and Horace Bindler, a literary critic (an undercover reporter in the TV version). It’s an unbelievable architectural monstrosity, built by a Mr Greenshaw. Raymond explained:

‘He had visited the chateaux of the Loire, don’t you think? Those turrets. And then, rather unfortunately, he seems to have travelled in the Orient. The influence of the Taj Mahal is unmistakeable. I rather like the Moorish wing,’ he added, ‘and the traces of a Venetian palace.’ (extract from the short story)

The short story is compact, whereas the TV version is packed with poisonings, ghosts, locked rooms, concealed identities, and so on. But apart from that, I’m not going to try to compare the TV show to the short story as there are so many differences that they are really two separate entities. And both are enjoyable in their own way. Julia Mackenzie is nearly right as Miss Marple, not as good as Joan Hickson, but then who could be. I just wish the sweet smile was toned down a little. The rest of the cast included Fiona Shaw, Julia Sawalha, Joanna David, Judy Parfitt, Robert Glenister and Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves). All were very good, especially Bobby Smalldridge as Archie Oxley (Mrs Oxley’s young son who does not appear in the short story).

Greenshaw’s Folly was first published in the Daily Mail 3 – 7 December 1956 and is included in Miss Marple and Mystery The Complete Short Stories.

I see that one of the plot elements involving the use of atropine and its antidote has been taken from one of the other stories in this collection, The Thumb Mark of St Peter, first published in 1928. I think the script writers must have had great fun with these stories.

Griff Rhys Jones – “Rivers”

I’ve been watching Griff’s TV series Rivers, so I was thrilled to read on the Mostly Books blog that he was giving a talk in Abingdon. Of course, by the time I read about it all the tickets were sold out, but I had a phone call yesterday morning – some tickets had been returned and did I still want to go!

griff1My thanks go to the person who returned the tickets – it was a great evening. Griff was up and running as soon as he was on stage – entertaining, funny and oh, so knowledgeable. So many facts spilled out of him with boundless enthusiasm and all without any notes. Griff explained how he came to do the TV series and how the producers like him to be “in jeopardy” – if you’ve seen any of his TV programmes, you’ll know what he means, from dangling on a cradle whilst cleaning windows of a New York skyscraper (his hairiest moment) to swimming the River Mersey, in danger of getting Weil’s disease when he fell straight in the sewage going underground with the team maintaining Manchester’s waterways, and kayaking in a canoe slalom on the River Derwent.

Griff is passionate about rivers and opening them up for people to use. He wanted to make a series about the landscape and how it is used – the waterways of Britain are the ancient transport routes only superceded by road and rail relatively recently. The rivers are there to be used, navigation rights that have been extinguished should be reinstated so that we can all use them. He also wanted it to be about the history of rivers – telling how the monks were the first people to use the rivers, creating the water meadows to irrigate the land, how people settled near rivers, how the towns grew up, how they were above all working rivers, and how we have lost our ancient connection with rivers.

griff21I bought his book – Rivers: a Voyage into the Heart of Britain, which he explained is not just about the TV series but is full of stories. I  joined the long queue waiting for him to sign it. I was almost the last person in the queue, but he was still cheerfully smiling and signing! I asked him how long it had taken him to write the book. He paused and screwed his eyes up whilst he thought back, “Well I started it in November … and had to have it finished by … February”, he said. “And then it was edited down, it was much longer than it is now.”

Well, that wasn’t very long to write such a detailed, hefty book, which looks  fascinating, complete with line drawings, maps and colour illustrations. I’ve only dipped into it so far, but here is an extract conveying the beauty of our rivers:

Down beyond Sudbury the River Stour closes in. It slinks through a perfect English landscape: Essex to the south, the much more mythically rural Suffolk to the north. “Suffolk” sounds eggy, buccolic, lost and lazy. Essex is equally as good, just not so equally named. I glimpsed wool merchants’ ochre or pink half-timbered hall houses. I slid into great mill ponds. There were plenty of startling grand churches, some paid for out of the profits of the local weaving industry, some like Stoke-by-Nayland, by rich medieval aristocrats. But mostly, despite the hard-won navigation rights, I was alone, hemmed in by tall banks of reeds, picking my way through over-hanging willows, negotiating passage rights with arrogant swans.

Frequently a stretch would open out with bullrushes standing up on either side, below whispering aspens. The way was clogged with waterlilies in full bloom: buttercup-coloured buds the size of small fists, and open petals like dishes, lying on flat floating leaves. The water itself was clear and waving with green cabbage-like undergrowth that ceaselessly, yearningly, writhed in the current. I could see right down to a river bottom reflecting sunlight off mother-of-pearl freshwater mussel shells. (page 277-8)

As well as meeting Griff I also met Annabel from Gaskella, who was on the stall selling books – she has the good fortune of having Mostly Books as her local bookshop. She’s also written about the event – see here.