Friday, October 18, 2013


Ronald Frame

Published 2013

First Sentences

"Four loud blows on the front door."

and, Chapter 1:

"I killed my mother."
Publisher's Description:

Before she became the immortal and haunting Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, she was Catherine, a young woman with all of her dreams ahead of her. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall—HAVISHAM—a reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business.

Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family's new money. But for all her growing sophistication, Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything—her heart, her future, the very Havisham name—is vulnerable.

In Havisham, Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham and cursed her to a life alone, roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have. 
Dear Reader,

I suppose the first question should be: does one have to have read Great Expectations before one reads Havisham?  The answer, largely, is "no", but I think that you can't really get as much enjoyment or understanding out of the book if you haven't.  Plus, Great Expectations is just SUCH a good book, why NOT read it?! :)  However, much in the vein of Wicked alongside The Wizard of Oz, there will be plenty of characters and situations you will recognize almost like old friends if you know the story beforehand.  Clearly both writers of these "prequels" were terribly familiar with the texts from which they wrote; they had to be!  There are so many diehard fans who would take exception if they weren't.

It certainly did help that I read the Dickens classic only about a year ago, which kept the characters and their stories fresh enough in my mind.  A little brush-up on the plot via Wikipedia certainly helped me recall some of the details, though.  I'd recommend that to anyone who might not know Pip's story like the back of their hand.

Anyway, I do love these books, these explanations for how things might have gone down to put the characters into the situations they are in for the more famous novels.  One truly wants to know the back-story of Miss Havisham, and how she might have wound up such a loveless, lonely, and disturbed woman.  And I think this book did a very good job of introducing you to the young Miss Havisham (the author assigned her the first name "Catherine", which I thought fit her quite well).  I loved the premise that, while she was a brewer's daughter, she was schooled in the ways of society by being sent off to live with an old-money family.  Her father wanted to raise her above the station she was born into, and as a single father, he found that most fitting.  Catherine's interactions with that family, and her experiences with high society, were quite enjoyable to read.  Frame does a great job describing the parties they attend and the people with whom they interact.  He also gives the reader a great back-story for Arthur, Catherine's half-brother, and thoroughly explains the friction which exists from the start between them.  The family portrait Frame paints is really a wonderful explanation of what puts Miss Havisham where she is when Pip first meets the woman.

One of my biggest problems with Frame's story of Miss Havisham, though, is that there is barely a single mention of the Pocket family!  The Pockets were some of my favorite characters from Great Expectations, and they certainly played a key role in the story of Havisham (they are in fact relatives; isn't everyone, it seems?), and yet they get NO mention.  That I found to be quite disappointing.  (I am correct in recalling that Matthew Pocket, Catherine's cousin, does try to warn her against Compeyson, right?)

Also, Frame's ending doesn't square with Dickens' ending, if I recall correctly.  I believe he used the original ending Dickens wrote for Great Expectations, not the one which ended up in the published work.  That is something slightly odd, but it does seem to work, especially if the reader has NOT read the classic -- OR doesn't want Pip to win out in the end.

Otherwise, though, I liked the period piece, replete with authentic vocabulary that might have been used at the time (I don't know, myself, but my guess is Frame did quite a bit of research on that, as well!).  The story was good, but I don't know that I would have liked it half as much if I weren't already a Great Expectations fan.  If you want to read something based in that time period, there are plenty of other great works to read first: specifically, any Dickens!  Right?  But, I have a soft spot for these prequels that people have dreamed up to explain characters and their situations from famous works, so I certainly am glad I read it!  I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a big fan of Pip Pirrup and his story.


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