Gordon Williams,
The Siege of Trencher's Farm
(Dell, 1970; Titan, 2011)

Timed to coincide with the release of the remake of Straw Dogs, Titan has reissued The Siege of Trencher's Farm, the novel both the original film and the remake were based on. It tells the story of George Magruder who, with his wife, Louise, and their daughter, go to a village in a remote coastal area in Cornwall, England, where he intends to finish writing his book. The family doesn't know it, but they've rented a house in hell.

Williams establishes the nature of the villagers in his first chapter, which points out how remote and isolated the village is. It is a place people are born into and never leave, a place so insulated and cut off from the world that no outsider is trusted or welcomed, where the locals take care of their own and issue their own peculiar form of justice. He tells the story of a soldier who did a local girl wrong and paid for it with his life at the hands of the villagers.

Magruder, an American college professor, is a pacifist who finds any sort of violence repugnant; when the locals kill his cat, he can't bring himself to pick up the body and dispose of it. There is no way he can be in this village and not run into strife. Magruder's situation is complicated by the fact that his marriage is in trouble. He and his British wife are drifting further and further apart.

When the violence finally comes, Magruder is forced to protect his family through brute force. The theme of the novel emerges then. It is a novel not about a man redeeming himself through violence, but about the dehumanizing nature of violence, the way it destroys what is human in us.

There's a lot of gore in the book, a lot of vividly described fighting and killing. It's all justified. If the novel did not walk along the edge, then it could not develop its theme. If we're to believe something is horrible, we have to see the horror. However, it's not an easy read.

It's a good one, though.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

8 October 2011

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