Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Grail Tree - Jonathan Gash

Late '80's into the early 90's Sunday evening television meant 'Lovejoy' in our house. Mum and I were both fans and I don't think my sister hated it, so it's possible that part of my affection is based on it being the one hour of the week when two teenage girls and a harassed working mother didn't argue... Thanks to freeview 'Lovejoy' has been repeated on various obscure channels almost continuously over the last five years; I watch it whenever I can find it, the early series especially are, I think, really very good, the later series become more formulaic but are still worth a watch.

I've been curious about the books for a long time, so was pleased to find a cheap copy in a discount book shop a few weeks ago, and despite being forewarned that book and filmed version were quite different was still in just the right frame of mind to give 'The Grail Tree' a go. I assume that this one is a reasonable example of the series as a whole - it made for interesting reading. In many ways it was a better book than I expected; decent plot, lots of stuff about antiques, and a very exciting finale all kept me turning the pages.

On the downside there is a really unappealing misogynistic streak running through this book. The action opens with Lovejoy being disturbed during an illicit tryst in a marquee, the promise of an antique is more tempting than somebody else's wife, she attempts to slap him so he hits her hard enough to send her flying into a table. It's not attractive, or necessary, or the only time it happens. This Lovejoy also gets into a lot of nasty fights, and has a not altogether feasible line in threats to senior policemen. 

'The Grail Tree' was written in 1979, I'm to young to remember quite how bad the bad old days were regarding attitudes to women and gay men but this book was offensive enough for me to doubt I'll pick up another one  - although I notice Gash is still writing, or was until recently. Amazon is prompting me to purchase one written in 2010 (Faces in the Pool) and I did think for a moment that it might be interesting to see how his attitudes have developed over the intervening 30 years, but as it features a pole dancer I'm fairly sure I don't need to bother. 

None of this changes how I feel about the TV series, I can now add to the nostalgia and the general enjoyment the realisation that this is one of the few dramatizations I've seen that's better than the source material. I don't regret reading the book, offensive bits aside it was worth the time, but it's not one I'd recommend either. 

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