Book Review: Havisham

HavishamHavisham by Ronald Frame

The blurb: There was a delicate tracery of gold foil on the back of the dress. How strange that such a consummately made garment should be worn for this one day only. But, as every girl growing up understood, her wedding day was the most significant she would know: a woman’s crowning glory.

Catherine Havisham was born into privilege. Handsome, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer, and lives in luxury in Satis House. 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 literature, music and masquerades – elegant pastimes to remove the taint of 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. It is a masterly tribute to one of Dickens’s most celebrated and iconic characters.

My review: Now for my confession. I’ve never read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I’m aware of the cultural references, of Havisham forever in her wedding dress, but before this book I wasn’t aware of her back story, of what might be revealed, of Pip and Estella…

Catherine Havisham is a richly portrayed, emphatic character that I warmed to immediately. Her upbringing and her social situation with friends, playmates and the Havisham name conspire to align misfortunes on a girl who should’ve lived a carefree life. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book, Catherine’s observations of the Chadwycks, the social mores of the times, how she fit in and the under-currents between high society and moneyed society was fascinating and beautifully portrayed. Her one friend Sally and the unspoken and vast gulf in their situations leading to a heroine cast loose in the wind without an anchor.

Her doom is apparent from the very first meeting of her ‘handsome stranger’ and Compeyson plays the perfect rogue. Their union and his swindling nature seems a forgone conclusion but here the novel seemed to lose some steam, in the end, don’t continue to read if you don’t like spoilers, he doesn’t seem as bad as all that. Catherine doesn’t seem as damaged. It waltzes slowly to it’s conclusion featuring more on Estella and Pip where I needed to know more about what had become of Sally and what had happened with Compeyson, which is delivered almost as a footnote for a character who was the catalyst for the destruction of the lead.

So Havisham started off with lots of promise but I would’ve liked a tighter second half. Nevertheless Frame’s Havisham is a wonderful creation.

Slight drawback was a poorly formatted ebook that I downloaded from netgalley, hard to read when there aren’t spaces between words, for instance: therewasadelicatetraceryofgoldfoilonthebackofthedress. Made my eyes water a bit! But just a teething problem with digital proofs.

6.5 out of 10 stars! ******.5

BUY ME! Havisham

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