Sunday, April 18, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

The ash from the Iceland volcanic eruption has disrupted air travel throughout Europe. It shows how vulnerable modern civilisation is to cataclysmic events. It’s not just people. Trade and industry will be affected.

I turn to local affairs. I’ve had an interesting two days. On Thursday I began reading Helen Stiminson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. On Friday I read on, only stopping to go to the dentist to get a tooth out. In the evening Anne and I watched Disk2 of Little Dorritt

Yesterday, I read most of the day. We had visitors mid-afternoon but as soon as they left I picked up the novel, finishing it just before dinner. After dinner we watched Disk3 of Dorritt.

The comparison between novel and TV serial (based on Charles Dickens classic) reveals interesting similarities. Both are love stories. Both have their moments of melodrama. There are moments of sheer comedy. The plots are obviously manipulative. But there are contrasts. Pettigrew is man with backbone. Mr Dorritt has little.

Pettigrew is a cultured man of correctness, detachment and old-fashioned chivalry. He is the last person you would expect to fall in love and he does. I fell in love with the two chief characters on the first page. I knew what would happen The rendering of Dickens by contrast opens with mystery. What I did not anticipate with the Pettigrew was the comedy along the way. The duck-shooting scene ranks with the best of Pickwick Papers. While the golf club dance ends in chaos and disaster Pettigrew feels a fool. And doesn’t know how he could have acted differently.

Although basically a romance the novel touches on issues of urbanisation, greed, race relations and the clash between faith and desire. There is a comic and ironic tone that gives it depth and it sweeps the reader along. Stock characters made real. That’s some achievement. In retrospect aspects of the plot creak - isn’t that a Dickens’ characteristic? But above all the delicate and sensitive portrayal of cross-cultural love is so well-done.

Tom Courtenay is brilliant as Mr Dorritt. TV can never fully capture the richness of Dickens nor the extent of his sub-plots. But it’s not doing a bad job with this series. Despite a sore mouth I’ve had two good days albeit without enough exercise. The equinox winds still do blow.

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