It took me an unbelievably long time to read this not very long book, I have no idea why, or what caused the block because it's funny, charming, and generally engaging in every way. At least I got there in the end. 'The Wrong Box' was co written with Stevenson's son in law, Lloyd Osbourne and first published in 1889 when the two had been traveling together in the Pacific. I like to think 'The Wrong Box' was principally written for their joint entertainment rather than for money - simply because it has an irresistible silliness about it which suggests fun rather than work.
The starting point is a Tontine into which Joseph and Masterman Finsbury are entered by their we'll to do father. Some decades past and of the original 37 only Joseph and Masterman survive, the brother left will come into something really handsome.
This makes Joseph, who has been a poor business man, an extremely valuable asset to his nephews, who he may accidentally have defrauded, or allowed to be defrauded, of £7,800 when they were but poor orphans in his care. The elder nephew, Morris, is obsessed with that £7,800 and intent in keeping uncle Joseph in good shape so that he can inherit the Tontine.
In the best, and most sensational, Victorian tradition there is a train crash, uncle Joseph is lost in it, but there's a body, and if it can just be concealed long enough maybe everything will come out alright. But concealing a body isn't that easy, transporting it to a point of concealment even harder, and should the labels on a series of packing boxes get mixed up...
It's bad enough having a corpse you want to conceal, worse to have a corpse turn up on your doorstep unannounced, and an absolute nightmare to try and retrieve a missing corps from points unknown. The body makes an interesting, if accidental tour of the countryside whilst all the characters involved try and work out exactly what's happened and how to profit from it.
It's a truly funny black comedy (not quite as macabre as I might have made it sound, and almost certainly a lot better). The plot is almost incidental to a series of jokes and observation which is probably why it took so long to read, it's delicious whilst you are reading I, but there's no particular urge to see what happens next once you put it down. It was also Stevenson in a mood I've never met him in before, I'm used to high adventure, rather than out and out comedy. More investigation is clearly called for.
I really recommend this one, it's a triumph from Stevenson, Osborne, and Hesperus for bringing it back into print. Apparently a film version was made in the 1960's - I'm torn between wanting to see it and trying to imagine what the 1960's would have made of this.
Having not read it, I didn't know that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote this story; but I've seen the film a few times and love it, it's very amusing and eccentric, and has several very famous faces in it. You really must watch it, you will surely like it too, it's one of my favourite films from that time.ReplyDelete
A few people have said how good it is, I'm going to have to find it!Delete
This sounds lovely - just the thing for a certain mood. EVEN better, I already have a copy waiting for me :)ReplyDelete
It's great in a silly kind of way. Think you will enjoy it when the time comes.Delete
Can you pick out who wrote what at all? I have not read this one, but there were places in The Wrecker and The Ebb-Tide where it was pretty easy.ReplyDelete
I couldn't, but I'm interested that you could. I'm not well acquainted enough with Stevenson (I've read Kidnapped, Katriona, The Master of Ballentrea and that's about it) or Osbourne (read none) to know which is which. I enjoyed this one enough to want to know much more about how they worked together, their work together, and their individual books.Delete
The story sounded familiar to me so I am guessing that I might have seen the film at some point.ReplyDelete