Friday, 16 July 2010

Forgotten Book - Dead Man's Bay

Some time back, I featured in Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books a novel by Catherine Arley called Woman of Straw, which was filmed with Sean Connery (although I continue to hunt in vain for a showing of the movie on the schedules). That is my favourite of the two Arley books I've read so far, but Dead Man's Bay also proved worth reading.

Arley was a French writer, several of whose thrillers were published in translation by Collins Crime Club in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She was an exponent of psychological suspense with startling plot twists in the same school as Boileau and Narcejac, Japrisot and Montheilet, although her reputation has not lasted as well.

Dead Man's Bay starts off as a routine woman-in-jeopardy novel, but eventually develops into something more sinister; the ending is very dark indeed. The set-up is straightforward: Ada is alone in a house on a remote Breton clifftop and has evidently suffered a mental collapse. She seems emotionally dependent on her rich husband Andre, but he is away on business and a sequence of troubling, though at first trivial, events causes Ada to fear for her sanity.

The flaw - to my mind - in the novel is that one needs to root for Ada, but in truth she is such a misery that one’s sympathy for her predicament soon becomes tested up to, and beyond, the limits of tolerance. Yet I found the book interesting enough to want to seek out more of her work, and discover whether she was able elsewhere to marry her undoubted talent for tension-building with more adept characterisation. In Woman of Straw, she did just that.


Anonymous said...

Martin - You hit on something very interesting. It really is hard to keep enjoying a book if one's sympathy for the protagonist gets that much of a testing. I'm glad you found enough enjoyable in the novel to finish it, and that you liked Woman of Straw

Deb said...

I saw "Woman of Straw" a few years ago on TV. I didn't know it was based on a book, but I have to say you probably haven't missed much if you haven't seen it. Gina Lollabrigida plays the woman, married to crochety Ralph Richardson, with Sean Connery as her lover. There was a very melodramatic aspect to things that, I suspect, was absent from the book.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sometimes I lose patience with characters like that, too. At least the character was redeemed by other factors in the book.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I agree. It's the same problem with Francis Iles' Before the Fact.
Deb - you disappoint me, I was hoping the film was a hidden gem!!