Gordon Williams, The Siege at Trencher’s Farm (Dell, 1969)
[originally posted 17Sep2001]
Sam Peckinpah and Dustin Hoffman immortalized Williams’ little morality tale in the early 70s with the film Straw Dogs. In true Peckinpah style, the source material was gutted, twisted, and ripped to shreds. The Siege at Trencher’s Farm itself, while not exactly a model of stiff-upper-lip British reserve, is to Straw Dogs what Saving Private Ryan is to the sanitized war films of the fifties.
Williams gives us a bookish professor who’s taken a year’s sabbatical to the British countryside to finish the final draft of a book on a remarkably minor figure in British letters, a sabbatical that gives his (English) wife an opportunity to go home for a year and give the kid a chance to experience life outside the good old U. S. of A. Through a series of misunderstandings, a coincidence or two, and a few very bad misreadings of the British class structure (all of them, predictably, by the highborn), events bring us to the bookish professor needing to call on the primal side of his nature in order to defend home and family. There’s nothing surprising here, certainly not when the book is looked at in relation to the period in which it was written. However, it’s a good read, a quick one, and with the exception of a grievous contemporaneous historical error (Williams, writing in 1969, tells us America pulled all its troops out of Vietnam that year!), it’s well-grounded and a bit of guilty fun. Just don’t go in expecting the Peckinpah version. ** ½