First there was the film – Dutch with English subtitles – and then there was the novel. It’s what happens when a script writer and producer creates a successful film and sees the potential to improve it by penning a more successful novel.  That’s said with hindsight, because, of course I read the book first.  Though given the way the book is fleshed out, I wish I’d done it in the sequence the two were created.

The Novel

Bride Flight (the novel) is an absorbing epic telling the story of three women who fled from post-WWII Holland to find new lives with their fiancés who were waiting for them in New Zealand.  Three women, cast from very different moulds, flying around the globe to marry three very different men and three very different futures.  On the flight (coincidentally the last great London-Christchurch air race of 1953) they meet Frank, a bachelor, who is to play a crucial role in the lives of all three.

The novel begins with the three women, now in their old age and no longer in contact with one another, receiving invitations to Frank’s funeral. They all decide to attend.  As they travel to Frank’s vineyard,  they reminisce on their experiences and the secrets of the past begin to emerge.  It becomes obvious that this reunion is highly-charged.  The question is whether it will spiral out of control or will they reconcile?

I found their characters and stories, and the portrayal of the values and attitudes of a bygone era absolutely authentic.  I’m not going to go into detail for fear of spoilers.  I will say that the future held many surprises for all concerned and their lives in New Zealand were not necessarily better than those they left behind in Holland.  450 pages simply  *** flew by *** (apologies, I couldn’t resist that).  Good storytelling and a seamless translation.  I was particularly gratified to learn that Lanarkshire is not the wettest place on earth – Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island has that honour.  I will also say, at the risk of stereotyping, that this is more likely to appeal to female readers.

Was there anything that bothered me?  I do get annoyed with books that portray the most devout character as the most miserable.  But given that this man’s family was wiped out in the North Sea Flood of 1953, I suppose he had plenty to be miserable about.   I found his other inadequacies a trifle exaggerated.  Still it made for good drama.

After reading the novel, the film felt hurried. In transforming the story from film to novel, the author changed, as far as I can tell, only one plot detail and even then it was simply a matter of timing. Certainly the scene was more dramatic in the film, but it wouldn’t have happened like that in real life.  The book felt more real.  I have to say, though, that the landscape of New Zealand looked absolutely glorious.

This post is part of Dutch Literature Month 2012, hosted by Iris On Books.