“After only a few minutes I felt I was giving myself to them: like some flower that’s had a dark time growing, opening at last to the sun.”
– Havisham, Ronald Frame
Remember a little while ago when I told you all the story of the incident when I rescued a novel from the disorganized and overlooked shelves of my local Dollarama? Well, it seems that my days as the Great Book Rescuer are only beginning. Just a few weeks ago, I was called to rescue yet another novel from a shelf where it might otherwise have been unloved. Here’s the story…
I was walking through the Chapters at the shopping mall close to my home in Whitby with my fiancé SS. I wasn’t expecting to buy a book on that day; we were actually in pursuit of a present for my dear friend CV’s birthday, and one thing I knew I didn’t need was more books! I was sauntering through the Chapters though, with SS in tow, because I normally like parking close to the store so as to at least afford myself the opportunity to smell and be surrounded by the books.
Imagine my surprise when I almost walked right into the bargain table in the middle of the store. With books at such a good price, how could I not pause to take a look? I promised myself that I was only browsing, that maybe I would pick up a novel for CV, but that I would NOT, under any circumstances, take home another large book to sit on my ever-growing To Read pile at home.
But, the title of a particular novel caught me in its grasp: Havisham. If you’re a Dickens fan like I am, that name will immediately mean something to you. If you’re a Dickens fan who is also a bride to be, like me, then that name will take on a new meaning to you, one equally fascinating and horrifying. I had to hold the novel in my fingers, read its back cover and investigate why this modern-looking book was so loudly proclaiming the name of one of Dickens’ most famous characters.
I learned that Havisham by Ronald Frame acts as a prequel to Dickens’ much loved novel, Great Expectations. Now, I have to admit that Great Expectations is not my favourite Dickens novel. It is, undoubtedly, extremely popular and with very good reason…it’s similar to Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol in that it will always be one of the first novels that comes to mind when someone says “Dickens”. I’m more inclined to prefer meatier and more sophisticated novels in Dickens’ career, such as A Tale of Two Cities and (my personal favourite) Our Mutual Friend, but I do have a huge appreciation for Great Expectations as well; and, perhaps more importantly for our purposes today, I have always been at once terrified and intrigued by the character of Miss Havisham introduced in that beloved novel.
Miss Havisham, if you don’t know, is a constant bride. Well, actually, she was never a bride at all…she never ended up marrying the man she loved. Given the apparently heartbreaking and depressing nature of her separation from said fiancé, Miss Havisham decides to embody the role of the bride for the rest of her life, wandering around her impressive home in her wedding dress, walking in circles around the room where her wedding breakfast was to be held, constantly lamenting the loss of a life she never truly lived. This is, evidently, a fearsome image to behold, particularly in a Victorian novel that is already replete with dark imagery and subject matter. I don’t know many people who are comfortable with the idea of Miss Havisham, and as a future bride myself, the notion of this jilted woman wandering in suspended bridal reality for all eternity is quite unsettling.
So, how could I turn away from a novel that promised to investigate the life of Catherine Havisham before her devastation? I just couldn’t. And, to make my choice even easier, Frame’s novel was on sale at this specific Chapters for only $2. For less than the cost of a Starbucks latte, I could take home and properly love and idolize a novel based on one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. It was a no brainer. I had to rescue the book from its solitary existence; I had to bring it home and give it a more fulfilling life on a shelf beside its original source of inspiration.
I embraced my role as the Great Book Rescuer and scooped up Havisham, carrying it to my bedroom with pride and excitement. It took me another week or so to begin reading it, and I didn’t know what to expect at all. The whole experience of finding the novel was surprising enough, but imagine how thrilled I was when I became thoroughly engrossed in it, loving every chapter and eagerly flipping each page. While the story is familiar in that most of us know what’s going to happen to Miss Havisham in the end, I’ve been so totally interested in learning about her upbringing, her childhood, and the events that led her to the man that left her at the altar. It has been a truly entertaining reading experience so far (I’m very close to finishing the novel), and, from what I can tell at the moment, this is definitely a novel I would recommend to fans of Great Expectations.
Moreover, probably the part I like best about Frame’s novel is how it is written. Frame really has a way with words and he creates images and scenes so beautifully. I’ve been taken by many of the passages in the novel, and several of the lines have stuck with me. I’ll leave you now with a few of my favourites. I’ll be sure to update you all on how I like the conclusion of the novel once I get to it!
“‘Suffering and courageous women who deserve their own immortality.’”
“Everything, finally, had been play, which seemed to me not enough for life.”
“Experience can never be undone, or knowledge unlearned.”
“‘Somewhere else. Somewhere that’s just our own.’”
– Havisham, Ronald Frame
Girl with a Green Heart