If you enjoy Sam Peckinpah’s violent, hard-edged films, then it may be worthwhile for you to read The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, a 1969 novel by the British writer Gordon Williams and the inspiration for the 1971 Peckinpah film Straw Dogs. If you don’t care about Peckinpah and his blood-soaked films, and if, in general, you don’t care for pornographically violent works of fiction, then don’t bother with this novel.
In The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, an effete American professor named George Magruder has rented a farm in the English countryside, moving there with his wife and daughter in order to write a book while on sabbatical. George’s wife, Louise, is bitchy, British, and very unhappy with her excessively passive and tolerant husband. Early on in the novel, George goes to town and offends the surly, plainspoken locals; they don’t like this arrogant, rich American and they’re going to do something about it.
An infamous child molester miraculously escapes from the local institution, wanders through a snowstorm, and, by equally miraculous circumstances, is brought into George and Louise’s farmhouse. The men of the town want to lynch the man, but George, who fancies himself a defender of human rights, insists that he and his wife protect the criminal. The locals get drunk, try to invade the house, and the second half of the book consists of George overcoming his passivity and discovering that he can: be a violent badass, scream at his wife, and defend his home like a supposed real man.
Much of the novel’s prose reads like a screenplay, with tedious descriptions of props, settings, and physical actions. As for the plot, there’s some mystery as to how great the violence will become, and just what exactly will happen to all the characters as the hysteria of the home invasion hits a fever pitch. However, that tension only really matters if you identify with the characters and care about their predicament, which I found too implausible, fantastic, and crudely sketched to do so.
Straw Dogs is a reasonably close adaptation of the novel, with Dustin Hoffman as the effete American intellectual. The film, however, adds a graphic rape scene that’s missing from the novel. A remake, directed by Rod Lurie and starring James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, and Alexander Skarsgård, comes out this September, and I imagine it will dilute whatever unique artistic elements the original had, adding little of its own.
Titan Books’s new edition of Gordon Williams’s The Siege of Trencher’s Farm was released on August 16. To purchase it, click here.