Sunday, August 1, 2010

Laura – Vera Caspary

This was one of my holiday reads so has been on a list to write up for the last couple of weeks – which has rather been the fate of this book since I bought it in a fit of enthusiasm for Dorothy B Hughes a couple of years ago. I’d just read ‘The Expendable Man’ reprinted by Persephone who I don’t normally associate with edgy nourish thrillers but it is a particularly good book, and that I do associate with Persephone. I was distracted in my search by ‘Laura’ – I once shared a flat with a girl of that name who would have made a good noir heroine.

By the time I got the book the moment had passed (yes a whole 5 days later) but holidays are a good time for a bit of noir so it seemed like a good time to give it a go. Unfortunately ‘Laura’ is more romance than Noir and that’s part of the reason it’s taken me a bit of time to get round to talking about it, but this afternoon I came across the film version on film 4 which gave me a bit of a prod.

My copy of ‘Laura’ is a feminist press reprint which comes with a very earnest introduction about women writers of pulp fiction (which is interesting, but not really holiday reading) and which definitely kept me off the romance track. It all started very encouragingly with the eponymous heroine being offed courtesy of a sawn off shotgun discharged in her face. (Yes I know it sounds horrible, but any description centres on her green chiffon negligee and silver mules, and it is only fiction.) As her life is slowly unravelled the investigating officer develops something of an obsession for the dead woman, and then one night alone in her flat the whole case changes....(spoilers available on Wikipedia).

I don’t want to say any more about the plot which is actually not so very bad, and though I found the writing a little flat, had I been in the mood for something a bit more romantic (despite shotguns) I probably wouldn’t have minded. What I did quite like was that the narrative swapped between the principle characters, and what I also really liked was the film. Things get swapped around a bit but basically I think the film works better, it’s snappier and just a little bit more convincing, the romance makes more sense, and yet...

With pulp fiction it makes sense that a film version might work better, but I’m currently re reading ‘Persuasion’ and when the film version of that was mentioned in an online book group thread it’s safe to say reaction was violent. If I’d loved ‘Laura’ I would have resented the liberties taken with plot ordering and character, as it was I had to watch the film start to finish, but should it ever matter very much what’s done with a book? It doesn’t change the book, and maybe it’s good to see other people’s interpretations (though naturally if they mess with my vision of how it should be they have it wrong!)

So – ‘Laura’ was okay but not quite what I was hoping for, and I haven’t yet got any more Dorothy B Hughes, so meanwhile it’s back to Raymond Chandler – very reliable and also brilliant on screen adaptations.


  1. Fun write up -- I love noir as well, and I can imagine it would have been tough to go from expecting noir to suddenly reading romance!

  2. Well it was a bit. Any recommendations for something darker?

  3. Have you tried James Cain? I'm reading Mildred Pierce right now.

    I continue to love your blog.

  4. I loved the film, will add the book to my wish list. Pleased you love the blog:)