Masterpiece Theatre, and that -- if the opportunity arises -- I like to read a book before seeing a movie/TV based on that book. The Lady Vanishes intrigued me when I learned it was on the Masterpiece schedule, as I'd seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie years ago, but didn't realize it was based on a novel. Further exploration revealed that my library doesn't even own a copy of the book (is it even in print?), but had one lone copy of the audiobook. It was only after I finished listening and was looking for a review that I realized that Ethel Lina White's novel is not even called The Lady Vanishes, but The Wheel Spins.
Wealthy, unattached Iris Carr is vacationing with some of her friends in an unnamed country in the Balkans. She and her friends exhibit rowdy bad manners and a strong sense of what we now call entitlement that has not endeared them to Iris' fellow Englishmen and women at the resort where they are all staying. Unfortunately, she sees quite a few of these travelers as she waits for the train to Trieste that will take her home. Iris faints at the station, but manages to get on the train feeling a little odd and ill. She is comforted by another Englishwoman, a Miss Winifred Froy, who chatters on about her former position as governess to a highly placed Balkan nobleman and plies Iris with tea. However, when Iris awakes from a refreshing nap, Miss Froy is nowhere to be found and no one on the train claims to have seen her.
For some reason, Iris -- whose character has not led us to believe that she gives a rap about anyone but herself -- feels compelled to solve the puzzle of what happened to Miss Froy. It could be that she hates being patronized by her fellow passengers, who all provide versions of "there there, remember you had a nasty faint earlier" as they doubt her story of Miss Froy. But it wasn't enough for me. The whole thing was wafer thin, not particularly entertaining, and definitely a product of its time (1936).
Judi Dench's (just watched her final M this weekend) daughter Finty Williams narrates the novel. She brings a British flintiness to the narration, clipped and imperious, full of that English-centric belief (exemplified by a quote from Iris that I've used as my post title) that the world should revolve around them. But Williams contributes to my general sense of ennui about this book because she reads with zero tension. And I think we're supposed to feel Iris' tension and anxiety as the "wheel spins" bringing her closer and closer to Trieste and the probable end of Miss Froy. I heard a fair number of inhales and other mouth noises in this audiobook as well.
So this was a bit of a summer trifle which now permits me to snobbily say that I've read the book first. The television film (as they say in England) adheres quite closely to the novel, but they were both pretty blah. I know that there are plenty of Masterpiece fans who use our library, so I wonder how many of the 21 people who have placed holds on "The Lady Vanishes (DVD)" in our catalog know they will be getting the Hitchcock film, since the DVD didn't go into the catalog until after the Masterpiece airing. Those wacky cataloguers, keeping us on our toes!
[The Avramovo train station -- the highest in the Balkans (1267 meters) -- might have been where Iris waited for her train to Trieste. This photograph was taken by Felix O and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]
The Lady Vanishes (The Wheel Spins) by Ethel Lina White
Narrated by Finty Williams
BBC Audiobooks America (now AudioGO), 2007. 6:08