Havisham: A Novel

Havisham: A Novel

By Ronald Frame

Expected Publication November 5th, 2013

Advanced galley from BEA

Genre: Historical Fiction

Three Stars

Catherine Havisham was born into privilege. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer, and lives in luxury in Satis House. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall—havisham. A reminder of all she owes to the family name, and the family business.

Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers literature, music and masquerades—elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family’s new money. But for all her growing sophistication Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything—her heart, her future, the very Havisham name—is vulnerable.

-goodreads.com

In this retelling of Great Expectations written by Charles Dickens, Frame brings life into Catherine Havisham before the wedding dress; before her downfall.

I must admit, I have never finished Great Expectations, although I have certainly tried. Three times, to be exact. Maybe that is why I didn’t truly love this book. The concept was great, albeit a bit ambitious I felt with such a beloved and read novel by one of the most notable British writers. Luckily, Frame had a little help, or push in the right direction. Havisham was originally a retelling on BBC Radio. It isn’t exactly an easy transition, radio to a novel, I imagine. Some things can translate, but others cannot. Frame certainly did not fail in this endeavor, although I never listened to the podcast.

Frame’s writing was descriptive, but what he failed to do in my opinion was give life to each word. There were many times I felt bored. There was too much time spent on Catherine’s time spent with the Chadwycks to become a society woman. From there, Frame drowned me with too many quotes and passages from the Aeneid. He used Dido as Catherine’s doppelganger, or more her inspiration on becoming a woman. After disappointments, and joys, Catherine would recite words from Dido. She would argue about Dido. And so forth.  Even though I appreciate mythology, and Aeneid has been on my to-read shelf, there comes to a point where too much is too much. I understand Frame wanted to show Catherine was a knowledgeable woman, even for her class and riches. But, it took away from the story for me.

The story didn’t truly begin for me until the end of the middle. While I dragged my feet to read just fifty pages, once there was a hundred and fifty or so pages left, I became insatiable. I kept reading and reading. Why did it take Frame two hundred plus pages to get me interested? Maybe too much back story. Wait, isn’t the novel all back story, what it is supposed to be. Hence a retelling. OK, yes, sure. But the back story does not have to be heavy. There needs to be plot, right? Not my father spent this money on this and this. When the plot really became known, the novel evolved into something else, something better. I started to feel involved, more than a reader. To me, that is what a good book does. The reader doesn’t just want to listen, to read words that were spoken, the reader wants to be, and feels they are, a part of the action.  It’s a shame it took so long for me to want to take part. When I get invested, though, I get invested.

I decided to give this novel three stars, nothing more or less, because although the writing was good, it did feel heavy or burdened with literary references. The development of Catherine was slow. She often seemed silly, and frivolous focusing on masquerades and her acting and costumes. She had love, sure. A romanticized love. Yet, when a major event happens, that’s when I felt Catherine was as true and sincere as I always hoped she was. Maybe hardening her made her more likable.  It was her strength and trust in herself that made me respect her. I wanted to read the next page, wondering how much more I can be impressed with Catherine. She is not just the woman in the wedding dress, the feast untouched and preserved for ten plus years. Even with people calling her crazy at the end, it did not lessen, but strengthened my love for her.

Of course, the three star rating reflects on the lack of action. The writing style was good, but not great. Maybe if you are a so and so fan of Great Expectations you may want to read this when it comes out in November. It was really the middle that connects you to Dickens’ Catherine Havisham. Plus, the last one hundred pages has Pip Prippip pop in and out. Or, maybe it can be a good read with no knowledge of its predecessor Great Expectations.

“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” –Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Advertisements