Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Patrick Hamilton. The Charmer (1953) (orig. Mr Simpson and Mr Gorse)

     Patrick Hamilton. The Charmer (1953) Originally titled Mr Simpson and Mr Gorse, retitled and reprinted in 1989 to take advantage of the Masterpiece Theatre version of the novel. Two reactions: I’m impressed by Hamilton’s narrative technique, a nice example of the ironic distancing; and the video is quite different from the novel.
     The plot is simple: a psychopath named Gorse woos a middle-aged fool of a woman named Plumleigh-Bruce, and absconds with her money. Hamilton uses a carefully organised series of Parts and Chapters. His narrator knows a good deal more than his characters, or than he tells in this story (the second of a trilogy), which he tells from the vantage point of knowing the rest of Gorse’s life. But his carefully controlled, quasi-documentary, almost journalistic, and contemptuous narration keeps us reading. It also distances us from the rather repellent characters. Neither Gorse nor Plumleigh-Bruce are pleasant people, nor are Simpson and Major Parry, the other two rivals for Plumleigh-Bruce’s hand (or rather, money and plump charms). Hamilton despises them, but his dispassionate judgmental style draws us in, and we are both fascinated and repelled. Besides, we want to know whether they will get their comeuppance. Plumleigh-Bruce does, of course, and the last sentence assures us that Gorse will die. The hints about his subsequent career suggest it will be at the end of a rope. Reading all three parts of the trilogy would answer any questions we might have. ***½ (2010)
      The Masterpiece Theatre adaptation (1989) of the trilogy makes Plumleigh-Bruce a much more sympathetic character, and changes a number of plot points, chiefly having to do with Gorse’s relationship to Simpson. To call the video an “adaptation” of Hamilton’s novel is an exaggeration: it is many ways a new composition. ***½ (2010)

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