Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Rising of the Moon by Gladys Mitchell

It is wrong to get too upset about a poor adaptation of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. However bad it is, the novel is still there and you know there will be another one along in a minute. It is hard to be so calm about a poor adaptation of an obscure work that you particularly like, because you know that it is probably the only one you will ever see.

BBC4 is currently repeating the Mrs Bradley Mysteries, which were first shown in 1998 and 1999. These are adaptations of a few of the many crime novels by Gladys Mitchell (1901-83), and there is much to enjoy about them - notably the cast. Last week's Murder at the Opera featured not only the regulars Diana Rigg, Neil Dudgeon and Peter Davison, but also David Tennant and Roy Barraclough - Doctor Who to Les Dawson in one move.

I know Alex Wilcock is a fan of this series and he ought to write one of his appreciations about it.

This week's episode was less remarkable, though still enjoyable. But you would not have gathered from it a hint of what a remarkable book Rising of the Moon is or that it was set, not in some ill-defined Midsomer village, but in a carefully recreated Brentford, with its canals and weirs, where Mitchell herself grew up.

From my limited sampling of her work I know that Mitchell was a very uneven writer, but in The Rising of the Moon she created something like a British Ray Bradbury - a gothic coming-of-age story.

As an essay on a Gladys Mitchell fan site puts it:
She sets out to create a world filtered through the eyes of her thirteen-year old narrator, Simon Innes, and to that end she succeeds on every page. It's not just a perspective, it's an entire ideology that Miss Mitchell offers in her young protagonist. Simon and Keith have scruples; they are cunning and resourceful, in the best meaning of those words; they have their own particular code of honour. They also have a thorough understanding of how their world operates (parental laws; omissions which are not the same as lies), and Simon's subdued narrative prose bolsters this point ... 
The Rising of the Moon is filled with careful, believable details. Some readers may wish the narrator to stay away from such off-topic digressions, but in truth, the village murder investigation remains at the centre, which is where such exotic news would surely be placed in a village boy's world. Detailed observations on everyday life only serve to make this story more vivid. 
Another great touch: the inclusion of a complete circus poster, with all of its patter ("Crowned Heads Have Seen It. Unknown Multitudes Have Seen It. Come and See for Yourself the Riotous Fantasy of Sublime Terror and Beauty.") lovingly recreated. Such a poster, offering the unbelieveable claims of the circus, would be an unforgettable tract to a thirteen-year old boy. 
Miss Mitchell observes and offers these details with unerring consistency. Simon and Keith operate on their own young-adult logic, which does not always run parallel with that of their elders' (e.g. the boys decide it's best to fake evidence to establish Jack's innocence). However, such behaviour is always truthful to the character of the participants, and such insight is commendable in its author.
Yes, the book is still there. I hope this adaptation will encourage people to discover it rather than put them off.

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