Sunday, August 30, 2009


Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering…

Tonight’s big TV event is ITV1’s new version of Wuthering Heights, for which I have an especially nerdy anecdote and a couple of fabulous YouTubes. It’s the great romantic story where the ‘hero’ is a brooding psychopath… Gordon Brown brilliantly took the man as his role model without looking at the context – what today’s called a “Daniel Hannan” (on which note, I Reckon Mark Thompson’s not covered himself in glory). In other news, Richard and I have been away visiting our parents, though I swapped groovy Manchester Pride for the dentist and re-read Professor Bernice Summerfield’s The Joy Device

It’s many years since I’ve been to Manchester Pride – perhaps even before that was its name. And tempting as it was to pop along yesterday while we were in town, we drove back home instead; it was a lovely couple of days with parents, and friends, and sister, and brother, and nephew, and niece, but unfortunately set off with a dental visit involving lots of drilling, infection, and having to make three follow-up appointments. So with the pain, the painkillers and the antibiotics, Richard sensed I was a little woozy and not up to much. Don’t be too surprised, then, if I only write little nibbles this evening.

On a special Pride note, though, I refer you to John Abrams, who I’m certain was there and who wrote three excellent pieces at the end of last week: on gay people’s progress; celebrating the life of Alan Turing; and, yay for John, winning an apology and a correction from Auntie Beeb when they talked provable rubbish!

Wuthering Heights

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Alex is going to do a 4000-word review of a 162-year-old book. I can’t wait!’ Well… No, sorry. It’s, oh dear, about twenty years since I read it, which means that my main memory of the book is just about the only exam in my life I’ve really enjoyed. It was largely because it was my final A-Level exam (yikes, nineteen years ago! And congratulations to our sixteen-year-old nephew, who we saw this week after doing rather well on his GCSEs), the second General Studies paper, but also because it gave me a chance to camp it up with a bit of creative writing (must have gone down well, too: they gave me an A). I answered all the questions bar one, then entertained myself with all the time I had left writing an essay which asked for an assessment of works of art in different media – so I compared the Emily Brontë book, the Laurence Olivier film and the Kate Bush song. Happy days!

You’ll probably remember, as I do, the famous video of shimmering white Kate dancing against black for her first and biggest hit. You may not be so familiar, though, with the alternative video of our Kate weirding it up in red, in the forest.

And I’m willing to bet that you haven’t seen Robert and Alistair Lock’s rather fabulous, tasteless home-made version, Mothering Swines. You should.

In the meantime, the big question for tonight and tomorrow’s new adaptation is – will they do the whole book, or just the bits people usually remember? The key thing I remember from reading the novel is being surprised that half of the book is Wuthering Heights: The Next Generation. Oops! Is that a spoiler? Depends if they put it in…

…So I’d better not write anything about A Pocket Full of Rye, the first Agatha Christie I’ve ever read – on an impulse from our local library, picking up the first Miss Marple for which I couldn’t remember the story from the TV – as, though the differences between the book and the Joan Hickson adaptation are fascinating, ITV1 are mounting a new version of that next week. Even though they rudely name the series after a place I used to walk to all the time in my teens, rather than Miss Marple the character. All I’ll say is that: surprisingly, Mrs Christie’s novel is very funny in parts (and far less abbreviated); that for a couple of years, I used to live in the same Essex village that Joan Hickson did, and she wasn’t as loveable as the hard-eyed angel of vengeance that she played; that the person behind the murders was indeed one of the three I mentally shortlisted, though (again surprisingly) one of them didn’t make it to the 1985 TV at all; and that the probable reason I didn’t remember their identity from TV is that, though they have the same name and basic place in the narrative, their character is hugely different.

A Reckoning?

…Er, has been moved!

Professor Bernice Summerfield’s The Joy Device
“I want to be happy.”
Ten years ago, Doctor Who was looking a bit shaky. The series had been dropped by the BBC, and the 1996 TV Movie (Time Waits For No Man) hadn’t been picked up for more. The most brilliant, influential and coherent continuation of Doctor Who between 1989 and 2005 – Virgin’s New Adventures novels – had lost their licence, too, and nothing else had really taken off instead. The BBC’s own series of novels was producing flashes of inspiration and long stretches of dreck, and Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas had only just started, not yet hitting their heights. One of the saddest competing shards of Doctor Who were the Doctorless continuing New Adventures novels with the fabulous companion Professor Bernice Summerfield – unloved by the publishing house, constantly on the brink of cancellation, and reading like a grudge war between the two incompatible authors handling most of what was left of the range. Now Benny’s got a large and successful range of Big Finish audios that are still fun and still carrying on, but back in 1999 her book series apparently died with a whimper. And yet just before the end there was a return to fun and quality, entirely unexpectedly, in Justin Richards’ The Joy Device.

If you can track down this novel – which wasn’t so much released as escaped – it’s one of Benny’s most entertaining adventures, despite expectations. By all accounts, Justin Richards was writing half the books at enormous speed (though I’m waiting to get hold of Simon Guerrier’s big book of Benny to find out The Inside Story), and most of his, ah, passed the time adequately, usually with walking corpses. But you wouldn’t rave about them. But then came The Joy Device, the penultimate book of the range, which I read while having a joyless time staying at a god-awful hotel in New Brighton for the job I was in at the time. And it cheered me up enormously. Put simply, Benny decides that being an academic who spends her life sorting through an art collection doesn’t sound thrilling, and goes off on a trip to the Rim of known space for excitement, adventure and really wild things, with her own pet Indiana Jones as a tour guide (yes, he is a male version of Benny). What could possibly go wrong?

Well, of course there are muggers, murderers and a Maltese Falcon-like collection of gangsters hunting a mysterious artefact, but Benny pretty much misses all of that. Because the thing I really enjoyed about this book, and have just enjoyed all over again on grabbing a book to comfort myself with when off to the dentist, is that her friends worry that she’ll either get herself killed or like it too much back on the edge, and set off after her to get there before her and, essentially, spoil all her fun. And, yes, that in itself is a spoiler, but it’s not the biggest challenge to work out: every peril’s defused, every threat moved out of the way, all to make sure that before she gets into a thrilling situation it’s been made as boring as possible. And it’s very funny. Particularly the very literal angel (though don’t look at the pretty cover too closely).

The bit I always remember is – unsurprisingly to anyone who’s followed Benny’s adventures – in a bar, though coffee’s a bigger threat. There’s a lot of fun here. Boredom is, of course, by definition not that exciting, but having to stretch every sinew to set up boredom is very entertaining indeed. Yes, it’s full of appalling clichés (mainly from self-buffing adventurer Harper Dent), but only to send them all up mercilessly, and there’s an inspired idea at the heart of it all, too. Dorpfeld’s Prism, the MacGuffin everyone’s chasing, has the effect of blinding you to reality and making everything seem so much rosier than it really is – which is exactly what Benny’s friends are arranging to happen to her. It’s just that while the gangsters and wheeler-dealers want it as an escape from their vicious existences, it’s boring Bernice senseless.

Pretty much every contemporary review I remember reading of this said how dreadfully clichéd it was. I suspect by that time too many of the books had spiralled into such a grim ordeal that everyone had forgotten they were meant to be amusing. If you read it, don’t make the same mistake. If you want grim and horrid, grab a Brontë.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?