Sunday, September 29, 2013

Havisham by Ronald Frame

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 27, 2013

Catherine Havisham was born into privilege. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. 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 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. In this astounding prelude to Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations, Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham, and cursed her to a life alone roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have.

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Arguably one of Dickens' best known characters, Miss Havisham has intrigued readers since the release of Great Expectations. I'm not a fan of the book itself, but even I am not immune to the eerie mystic that clings to the tattered remnants of her dilapidated mansion and decaying wedding dress. Like the novel or not, it's hard not to wonder how one could end up as psychologically grief-stricken as the mistress of Satis House and while we'll never know the full extent of her history from the pen of her creator, author Ronald Frame has given readers the next best thing in Havisham.

All things considered I don't think there are too many surprises in this piece, but at the end of the day we already know where this character ends up. The question is how she got there and in that regard I think Frame did an admirable job fleshing out her story. Using Dickens' work as a foundation Frame recreates her tragic history and draws his readers into her struggles. 

What I wasn't expecting was the light Frame shed on Estella's character. She is who she is, Frame doesn't alter her in the least, but watching her cold personality take shape under the bitter influence of her guardian was much creepier from this perspective than the hinted at chain of events we see in Dickens' work. 

A little slow in places, but all told Havisham is an enlightening and elegantly written companion to the much revered classic. 

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Look at me, in my train and veil. Tell me what magic you see. This is the awful damage men do. And still the foolish virgins go on believing. Look at me. Let your blood run cold at the sight. Take heed. Beware. Or you will suffer just as I have suffered. Love, devotion, married bliss. They're dizzards' dreams, that vanish with the dawn.
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