My local library happened to have copies of both the book and DVD on their returns trolley a few weeks back. I vaguely recalled there being some controversy over this title when I was a kid so figured I’d see for myself if fuss was still warranted these days.
I can imagine that when published in 1969 A BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE might have caused something of a stir. After all it features a father whose love for his young adult daughter can best be described as unhealthy (at worst, sickeningly creepy), two extra marital affairs, domestic violence perpetrated against a pregnant woman and a woman having sex with her son-in-law. And 45 years later those plot elements should still be enough to make a book interesting if not as shocking as it might have been at the time of its release. But I found it as dull as dishwater.
A dramatic plot is all well and good but, for me, a decent read also needs engaging characters and there really aren’t any here. Peter Manson is the creepily possessive father of Prue, a university student who has, when the book opens, recently married one of her lecturers, Gavin, to whom she is pregnant. Daddy is, to put it mildly, not amused. Rounding out the main cast are Sarah, the poor young woman who unwittingly substitutes for the daughter he can’t have as the object of Peter’s lust and Peter’s wife Cassie, who contributes nothing of interest until near the very end of the novel when she tells her husband of her own wretched affair some years earlier and takes out the dubious honour of most disturbing sexual encounter of the novel when she has sex with the son-in-law she knows has beaten up her daughter. But not one of them, not even Prue whose morality is the soundest of the lot and who really has done nothing to deserve the horror that befalls her, are remotely sympathetic. They’re all self-absorbed and whiney which I admit is a realistic representation of the human race but does anyone want to read about such bores?
In the end the book seemed to me to be trying way too hard to shock and not hard enough to tell a believable, engaging story. It drags along turgidly and predictably and I was well and truly pleased to reach the end.
The controversy I can remember about this title concerned the TV adaptation that aired here in the late 1970’s but that’s not the version the library had available. Instead I watched the 2010 adaptation starring the ubiquitous Trevor Eve as Peter and Hermione Norris as Cassie with Imogen Poots (Prue) and Tom Riley (Gavin) rounding out the main cast.
In some ways I suppose the adaptation is a success. The creepiness of the Peter/Prue relationship is perfectly recreated, as is the self-absorption and whiney-ness of the whole mob. In short I found the adaptation as dull as its source material and even found Prue the least sympathetic of the characters once again; a position she really should not hold. Though I blame it in part on her repeated use of Daddy when talking to or about her father. I have always cringed when hearing grownups talk about Mummy and Daddy.
In evidence that the book really has very little to say the writers of this relatively short adaptation (3 hour-long episodes versus the 7 episodes of the 70’s version) had plenty of time to incorporate the main elements of the original story and add some absurd extras. There is an entirely new tangent involving revenge for some past encounter between Gavin and Peter and an attempted sexual blackmailing of Cassie by a client of Peter’s which both serve to make for more sordidness but not, in the end, more engagement. Honestly it felt as if the entire thing was made because Trevor Eve and Hermione Norris had a rare couple of weeks off and neither knows how to relax.
Honestly I wouldn’t recommend the adaptation or its source material but if forced to choose a winner I’d plump for the book and then only because I have to assume it was attempting to do something new and interesting for its time.
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