Back story gives Dick­ens’s

Hav­isham

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - James Bradley

IBy Ron­ald Frame Faber & Faber, 419pp, $29.99 RE­CENTLY heard some­body de­scribe Par­adise Lost as Bi­ble fan fic­tion. They were be­ing mis­chievous, of course, but it was mis­chief with a pur­pose, not merely be­cause it re­minds us there’s noth­ing new about the fad for rein­ter­pret­ing and re­work­ing the clas­sics but be­cause it un­der­lines how cer­tain sto­ries con­tinue to res­onate, tempt­ing us to re­visit their am­bi­gu­i­ties and eli­sions.

The im­pulse be­hind this process varies. Some­times — as in Lev Gross­man’s in­spired re­work­ing of the Nar­nia se­ries, The Ma­gi­cians, or Jean Rhys’s bril­liant reimag­in­ing of the back story of Jane Eyre, Wide Sar­gasso Sea — it is re­vi­sion­ist. At other times it is par­o­dic or play­ful in the spirit of re­cent re­work­ings of Jane Austen such as Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies, Pride and Preda­tor and Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity and Sea Mon­sters.

Yet some­times it seems to em­body some­thing more ba­sic, a de­sire to re­cap­ture the spell of the orig­i­nal by ex­pand­ing or ex­tend­ing it in some way. At least out­wardly Scot­tish au­thor Ron­ald Frame’s Hav­isham sits squarely in this last cat­e­gory, tak­ing the events of Great Ex­pec­ta­tions — ar­guably Charles Dick­ens’s great­est and cer­tainly his most per­fect novel —- and us­ing them as the ba­sis for an ex­tended ex­plo­ration of the life of one of lit­er­a­ture’s most en­dur­ing characters, the jilted spin­ster Miss Hav­isham.

It is, in some ways, a cu­ri­ous un­der­tak­ing: as her spec­tral ap­pear­ance sug­gests, the Miss Hav­isham we en­counter in Great Ex­pec­ta­tions is less a char­ac­ter than an archetype, an ex­pres­sion of the en­er­gies that give the novel its ex­tra­or­di­nary power. We learn lit­tle of her

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