If you’ve read any of the Steelathon you may be forgiven for thinking me a heartless, emotion-free freak heart-made-of-stone balls-to-love-er. This would be a pretty fair assessment of my attitude towards a certain myth, that of “romantic” love, the one-look-into-their-eyes-lost-forever love (that’s lust. Once againLust. .
I do, however, believe in Actual Love-that is a combination of respect, lust, appreciation, trust, and friendship between two persons that leads to them regarding each other above all others.
This albeit highly cynical and unromantic viewpoint doesn’t stop me from squealing like a hamster that’s being held too tight whenever I see “love” acted out in front of me. Being a Hormonal Wreck a good 40% of the time I literally cry at anything. Pictures of cute baby elephants? A slight tightening in my chest. The “True Life” bits in That’s Life magazine? Eyes welling. The bit off Love Actually where he’s standing at Keira Knightly’s door with the cards and the Silent Night and the ‘you to me are perfect’? Sobbing. Three hours of constant, wrenching, dehydrating sobbing. True Story.
When helping N with her book shelves a couple of weeks ago, I (of course) borrowed a fair few. One of which was Falling For A Dancer by Deirdre Purcell. Now N’s collection is as eclectic as mine, don’t get me wrong, but a floaty-fonted front cover with Colin Farrell looking all kinds of lovely in white shirt and waistcoat combo was not what I was expecting to find.
The book tells the story of Elizabeth and here’s when I insert the ***CONTAINS SPOILERS*** warning cos I’m going to to talk about the the end of the book and I really really want more people to read this one
Elizabeth is 19 in 1937, living in Cork City, the only daughter of prosperous, middle class, respectability. When she meets George, an actor in a travelling theatre she falls head over heels in what she believes to be love with him. He is, of course, a Bastard, married, who sleeps with her and allows her to follow him around like a lovesick puppy for a summer ruining her reputation in the process and then drops her for the bright lights of Hollywood.
Elizabeth soon realises she is pregnant. This is handled beautifully by the author. Living where she does at the time she does her options are limited and in the end it her parents who make the decision for her; she must marry, and fast.
A Man is found in the shape of Neely Scollard, who lives with his four children out on the West Coast of Ireland, in a slightly dilapidated farm. The television adaptation, which I have also watched this weekend, shows the gritty awfulness of the countryside beautifully. The rugged landscape, steep-as hills (and having spent a very wet week on the West Coast I can testify both to the beauty, and the thighachingly steepness of the cliffs), randomly placed farms next to even more randomly placed ruins of old farms, the roads, the muck, it’s all there. And the men walk around in the ol’ white shirts and waist coast combo, which I have No Problem With but seriously have these people never heard of coats? A cardigan at least? Brrr.
Neely is predictably awful, though far far worse on screen than on paper, but the community accepts her and her Bastard Child, and Elizabeth settles into ‘making the best of things’.
Six years on and Elizabeth is bored, repressed, depressed and frustrated. Three living children later, she is no more than a drudge, with no excitement past the occasional church “do”. Neely tries his best but doesn’t understand her and it is only her friendly neighbour Tilly that offers any true support. When Tilly invites her to go see a travelling theatre company it is nothing more than an innocent excursion, until it turns out that George is one of the company.
The seeing of George again after all that time re-awakens something in Elizabeth. She tells him he has a son, and to go to hell, but it doesn’t matter, she has Been Seen and returns to her husband brandishing her a slut.
At this point I was about halfway through the book and no closer to figuring out what Colin Farrel had to do with any of this when Elizabeth meets Danny McCarthy. Nineteen, handsome, and desperately in love with Elizabeth, she completely looses her senses. Flattered by his attention, she once again believes herself in love with someone when actually, its lust. A dance in the town leads to trouble as Elizabeth allows herself to have fun in the arms of a man that isn’t her husband. The town in scandalised, Neely goes berserk and tragedy unfolds.
And thus starts the second half of the book. Having taken one million words to go through the first half, I’m not going to do the second. Its very complicated involving murder, deceit, another pregnancy and the most tragic fall off a horse since Gone With The Wind’s Bonny croaked 50 pages before the end on the book.
The TV version is veeeeerrry different from the book, not always in ways I disapprove of. I am going to talk about one last thing though, and that is the ending.
Throughout the book there is one character who is always a bit of a mystery. Mossie, Neely’s neighbour, is just “there” for most of it, so when he proposes to Elizabeth it comes as a bit of a shock. Its very very funny (and this bit in the TV version had both N and myself cringing into out pillows), but also kind of tragic. It is only at the very end that Mossie, played with smouldering brilliance by Liam Cunningham (snarf snarf one of them please. (Must Not Objectify Must Not Objectify)) comes into his own. When invited to have his birthday tea at there’s by Elizabeth’s daughter, he interrupts proceedings by pinning her against the wall, confessing undying love for her, snogging her brains out and then shagging her, after she’s realised that she’s been a dumb-ass for long enough of course!
The last scene of the book had me squealing with joy. As a woman who knows that there’s a side to herself that wouldn’t have been acceptable in 1930s Ireland either, if you know what I’m saying, I identified a lot with Elizabeth. I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it must be not to be able to make choices about if you should be able to become a mother, no choice as to who you marry, where you live or how you live. And no idea that its OK to just fancy someone. Its OK to just have sex with someone (as long as its safe and enthusiastically consenting). The problem with quite a lot of “romantic fiction” is that is always has to be love, no matter what. Danny McCarthy, gorgeous and highly shaggable though he is, is not Elizabeth’s equal when it comes down to it, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
When Mossie does his Thang (at which point the Bar for all Future Possible Interests was raised once again, sorry All Men), Elizabeth realises that he is in love with her because he loves her, and he also wants her. There’s is a meeting of minds, and bodies. The last scene is them in bed together, spent (horrid word but highly appropriate) and is just so perfect in the completion of Elizabeth growing from naive young girl thinking herself in love to mature sexually awoken woman who is comfortable with her best friend and lover.
The TV version ruins this. They get married (in the book they already are-told you it was complicated), and do a weird little dance-floor kiss watched by their neighbours. Pathetic. What makes this even worse is that Liam Cunningham is so ridiculously fit I feel I was denied a serious investment in the bank watching him ravish Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh (perfect casting all round). I spent a good five minutes shouting at N’s television at this betrayal to possibly the most sensory awakening love scene I’ve read in a bloody long time. Not Pleased.
Read the book. I know I’ve already told you the ending, but read the book. It’s too good to miss out on and I am once again flabbergasted I’ve not read it before.
Just don’t watch the last five minutes of the TV version. Use your imagination. I guarantee it’ll be better.