Hitting Hard: “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” (A Book Review)

The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, a 1969 novel by Gordon M. Williams, is about the cold and violent impulses of the plebes in rural England.  It inspired the making of the Peckinpah film, Straw Dogs, a good picture but not very faithful to Williams’s novel.  As in the film, even so, an American man married to an English wife is forced to violate his humanitarian conscience when some Brit bullies besiege his home.  They demand that the “Yank” turn over to them a man even more morally repulsive—he murders little girls—than they are.  But the man is puny and not in his right mind, and George, the Yank, refuses to yield to the chaps, whose scorn is decidedly for a child-killer and an American.

The novel is also about what being a man means apropos of having a wife—specifically, a very flawed one.

Close to being a mere potboiler, Siege is nevertheless splendidly exciting and sharply uncompromising.  With its palatable plot, it itself would make a good movie.

Bogie Making A “Dark Passage”

Cover of "Dark Passage (Keepcase)"

Cover of Dark Passage (Keepcase)

A 1947 Delmer Daves picture, Dark Passage, has Humphrey Bogart (character name: Vincent Parry) as an alleged wife killer running from the law.  “Alleged” is as far as it goes:  a woman called Irene (Lauren Bacall) knows he is innocent, hides him and supplies him with money.  Wanting a new face, Parry uses the money for makeover plastic surgery, but what happens later?  For one thing, someone aims to blackmail Irene for concealing a fugitive.

What happens, therefore, is that even the plastic surgery fails to prevent life’s contingencies from arising.  Parry’s identity is known regardless, by people who, unlike Parry, are up to no good.  Enemies keep filing in.  There is craziness in the plot here, but it’s also one to make you think a bit.  And the hard-working cast enables you to admire the acting.  In its late 40s way, furthermore, DP entertains not with sex but, unabashedly, with violence  A rowdy ride.

Spiritual Truth In “The Loved and the Unloved”

In the French novel The Loved and the Unloved (1952), or Galigai, by Francois Mauriac, Madame Agathe (or Galigai) hopes that by exerting her will she will cause a young man, Nicholas Plassac, to enter a romantic liaison with her.  But Agathe is physically repelling and the efforts do not work.  Mauriac has written that, for his part, Nicholas has an “idol” he must be separated from, this being not Agathe but Gilles Salone, a fellow with whom Nicholas maintains a strong friendship.

Themes in the book include the limited power of amatory love and friendship, and when sacrifice is less than moral.  It is shown that idols go, like life itself, and there is the idea of divine love at dead ends.  About a particular character in the book, Mauriac writes, “It was as though he had agreed with somebody to meet him there,” the “somebody” being God.

Though not perfect, The Loved and the Unloved is a probing novel which certainly should be read more than once, as I have done.  In its translation by Gerard Hopkins, it was penned with lovely and clever clarity:  “that living silence of the night which is the very peace of God”. . . “She could feel in her flesh what such a night must mean to two young creatures pressing together under the tulip-tree, two creatures whose happiness she was about to sully.”  Mauriac was a writer, all right.

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