When Dicken’s wrote Great Expectations, he created one of the most intriguing literary characters I’ve ever come across. The ghastly specter that was Miss Havisham is the most visual memorable character, although she’s not the lead in the story. Ronald Frame has taken her intrigue and attempts to tell the story of what came before. What happened in this woman’s past to make her so….let’s go with crazy.
When I saw that Gillian Anderson and Helena Bonham Carter had been cast to play Miss Havisham in BBC and film versions respectively, I was appalled. Miss Havisham had to be old! But if you look at the dates, it runs true that should would be in her late 30s at the start of the novel – when Estella and Pip are young. For a woman in her 30s to be so ravaged by the past, it must have been quite a story, so I can see why Frame chose her to base his story around. Unfortunately, that’s about where Havisham stops being interesting.
Rather than being a story about a woman’s decent into madness, it was a tale of a rich middle-class teenage girl who went to parties. It didn’t tie into the story of Great Expectations until maybe the last third of the book and even then, the connections were flimsy at best. This could have been the story of any random woman, not Miss Havisham. But at the same time, I don’t think that would have been enough to save it. The only character that was well fleshed out was that of Catherine Havisham. None of her relationships were explored in any real depth and when her best friend moves away, it was a mystery why they were friends at all, other than Frame calling them best friends. I think maybe he just doesn’t how women work: their friendships, their relationships, their teenage years as a whole. Some male authors can write women well, but less than 30 pages into this book I knew without looking at the back cover that it was definitely written by a man.
What could have been a great, in-depth character study turned out to be poorly painted façade. What a letdown.