havishamReviewed by Jax Kepple

Ronald Frame’s Havisham opens with a great scene in which a young Estella meets Miss Havisham for the first time and is shocked by what she sees – the dress, the veil, the slippers – all important details from Great Expectations reiterated here. This vignette is in short, clipped sentences, and almost like a brief running-commentary snapshot into Miss Havisham’s mind. It’s a brilliant way to kick off a story of one woman’s descent into madness and 24-hour bridal gown wearing.

Unfortunately, this style of storytelling continues throughout the entire novel, and, in addition to some unbelievable plot points, it’s very disjointed, jarring and hard to get through. Whereas Dickens’ writing flows with beautiful language and descriptions, Frame is sparse and the vignette style hurts the story more than it helps. And the end of the book overlaps with Great Expectations which was completely unnecessary – if I wanted to read about Pip and Estella, Satis House falling apart and Miss Havisham’s repentance, I’d read Dickens again.

Havisham‘s premise tells the story of how Miss Havisham grew up in the wealthy middle class of England and how she was jilted at the altar and fell into madness. She had a isolated, yet wealthy upbringing, due to her father’s ownership of a successful brewery that distributed to pubs around the country, and became friends with Sally, a girl who lived in the village. Suddenly, it comes to light that Mr. Havisham had married a cook, and there was a half brother in the picture after the cook died. Miss Havisham completely hates this half brother, so when she comes of age, she goes to live with an even wealthier family in order to learn how to behave in proper society.

This is where the story took a wrong turn. The entire time she was at the Chadwyck’s, it felt like filler in an already short book. The balls and parties she attends, the play she performs in, they are all a stage in which she could meet Mr. Compeyson who would steal her money and jilt her at the altar. A twist is added that Mr. Compeyson is in cahoots with her half-brother and secretly marries Sally (who is portrayed as Miss Havisham’s “best friend” but the relationship is not developed at all). Literally every scene with Mr. Compeyson is so contrived, it’s hard to believe that she would fall for it. If it had been more subtle it would have been more believable, especially since she was surrounded with wealthy people who could have prevented her from falling for him.

The book is from Miss Havisham’s point of view, but it is a cold narration. Frame does not let the reader feel for Miss Havisham in any way – she is horrid and unforgivable most of the time. And in the big scene where she is jilted, he chose to have her wet her pants, which was so crass and out of character, it singlehandedly ruined the book. She does it again later in the book when she asks for Pip’s forgiveness, and I couldn’t help but think Dickens was rolling in his grave.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Picador. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.