Posts Tagged ‘Winston Graham’

Angell, Pearl and Little God by Winston Graham ~ 1970. This edition: Fontana, 1972. Paperback. 414 pages.

First off: this is likely to be right up near the top of my list for “most memorable reads of 2018”.

Wilfred Angell, 47, large and undeniably fat, avoids emotional complications in his personal life by refusing to dally with women. He’s a successful solicitor, rather wealthy, in fact, who dabbles in deals shading on illegal. His hobbies are attaining art and antiques, and gormandizing.

Pearl Friedel, 20, tall and beautiful, avoids emotional complications in her personal life by refusing to go all the way with the young working-class men who squire her about to dinners and dances. She’s a perfume salesgirl in a large department store. Her hobbies are keeping herself looking nice, and looking forward to her one holiday a year, which she spends with a group of friends at a cut-rate continental holiday resort.

Godfrey Brown, 22, small in stature but perfectly proportioned, avoids emotional complications in his personal life by taking what he wants from women without committing anything at all. He’s an up and coming flyweight boxer, billed under the name “Little God”, working as a chauffeur to pay the bills. His hobbies are sparring and keeping in fighting fit form, and sex.

Wilfred meets Pearl on an airplane. Godfrey meets Pearl at a dance. Both want her, but what does Pearl want? Love? Or merely a better life than she foresees for herself in the social strata into which she was born?

Wilfred cannily courts Pearl, object: marriage.

Godfrey takes her out, and tries to rape her on their first date.

Pearl is terrified of Godfrey, and rightly so.

Wilfred ultimately looks like a safer bet, with his offering of a companionate, sexless marriage and a cash settlement to spend or invest as she wishes.

But Godfrey has developed an unhealthy obsession regarding Pearl…

“Gold, love and death.” An apt title for this French translation.

These three not particularly sympathetic characters, flawed through and through, meander along through this richly detailed novel, which builds and builds in an increasingly tense atmosphere of impending emotional drama. Violence is always there in the shadows, and from time to time it erupts, as Angell, Pearl and Little God pursue their hidden desires.

It’s hard to categorize this brilliantly black and frequently darkly humorous novel. It’s full of masterfully written set scenes: in the audience and in the ring at a boxing match; in a dying aristocrat’s bedroom; watching from fly-on-the-wall perspective shady property deals and the complex mechanics of legal-on-paper backroom bargains; a husband going through his absent wife’s bedroom, looking for something he’s not sure he’ll recognize; four laps in a racecar; a brutal seduction scene.

We don’t really like any of the titular characters and it’s doubtful that we’re meant to, though we certainly get inside their heads. Irony abounds, as their individual decisions result to a great extent in what they each deserve.

My rating: 9.5/10

The .5 reduction because Graham sometimes indulges in letting himself go on just a bit too long here and there. (And the sex scenes are cringe-inducing here and there. But hey. Sex scenes. Writers’ downfalls, pretty well universally. So I give these a conditional pass.)

But my goodness, that man was a writer.

 

 

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Marnie by Winston Graham ~ 1961. This edition: Fontana, 1980. Paperback. ISBN: 0-00-615964-8. 253 pages.

Does that title sound familiar? It should. This novel was turned into the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. I seem to recall hearing that Grace Kelly was Hitchcock’s first choice for the title role, but that she turned it down as she was already heavily involved with her arrangements to become Princess of Monaco, and it wasn’t felt quite suitable that she should play the role of a fictional thief.

For that’s what Marnie is, a thief, and a rather good one. Her modus operandi is the same each time: get a bookkeeping job in the office of some small business, plot out an opportunity for quietly absconding with the payroll or a large portion of the week’s income, then vanish, to reappear in another city with a newly invented identity.

Marnie needs money, quite a lot of it, more than she can get her hands on in the course of legitimate office worker employment, for she supports not only her crippled mother in a respectable separate establishment in Plymouth, but her secret (and possibly only) true love, an ex-racehorse, Florio, living at a boarding stable.

Marnie is a woman with twisted and tortuous personal issues, which come to a head on secret identity job number four, in which she attracts the fanatical attention of two of her employers: the recent widower Mark Rutland, and Mark’s despised playboy cousin, Terry Holbrook. Marnie lets herself get involved with these two disparate men, something utterly against her hands-off policy in the past, and things come crashing down, as Mark discovers her embezzlement, covers for her, and then uses his knowledge to blackmail her into marriage.

1st edition cover, 1961.

Terry sniffs around, knowing something off is up, and ultimately brings about a full exposure of Marnie’s wicked past, but not before a lot of psychological drama, revealing the true reasons for Marnie’s sexual frigidity and her inability to form normal relationships and so on. (Not very surprising spoiler: Mom’s involved.)

This is a decidedly convoluted novel, and it’s rather a compelling read, though at a few points I was silently shouting to the author, “Stop, already! Don’t add another twist!” It’s all rather dark, and occasionally deeply disturbing (the honeymoon spousal rape scene, the horrible death of Florio), and for quite a while there it looks like the ultimate tragedy will indeed play out, as Marnie mulls over ending it all in the most final of ways.

Winston Graham spares us that, and even offers us a glimpse of the possibility of eventual peace for our desperately damaged heroine, once she has confronted all of the repercussions of her past.

Another interesting novel. Very readable. Definitely a period piece, giving a fantastically detailed picture of a certain segment of 1950s’ British society.

My rating: 9/10. It lost a point because there was a fair bit of tell versus show, and some of the drama flourished into melodrama, but all in all “good job” to Graham for successfully putting forward such an audaciously engaging scenario.

I haven’t actually seen the Hitchcock film version (I understand that it is not particularly true to the novel except in the broader way), but I find it extremely intriguing that the story has just been reworked (again with a lot of liberties regarding the original) into an opera by Nico Muhly. It’s playing at the Met RIGHT NOW. I wish I lived closer to New York; I’d go see this in a flash.

Oh, yes. A word about the author. Winston Graham is indeed that Winston Graham. Poldark, anyone?

 

 

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