July 08, 2015
I'm participating in Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge and for my first book I decided to read The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick, the novel that inspired one of my favorite movies.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. There were a few sizable plot discrepancies between the book and the movie, which I'll get to in a minute, but for the most part it felt like I was reading a beloved film. I could hear Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison's voices and picture the atmospheric Gull cottage as I turned each page. The movie always leaves me with a palpable sense of mystery, romance and serenity and the book inspired the same feelings. I would highly recommend it, whether you're a fan of the 1947 movie or not.
Before I continue, this is not going to be a spoiler-free post, so if you aren't familiar with the plot (either from the book or the movie) here's your warning to stop reading this post and go watch the movie or read the book first.
There were a couple pretty big differences between the book and the movie, but (with one exception) I don't feel like they changed the overall feeling or direction of the story. First of all, in the book Anna has two children - Cyril and Anna. Cyril is an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud who takes after his father's side of the family. If you've seen the movie, you know that Lucy Muir's in-laws are the last people you'd ever want your children to take after! His character was very unlikeable and it's understandable that they decided to cut him entirely out of the story when they made the movie. At one point in the book, Captain Gregg needles Lucy into admitting that she doesn't even like her own son. Not really fodder for a 40's romance film, right?
Another major difference is in the mystic qualities of Captain Gregg. In the book, he cannot materialize but instead speaks to Lucy through her mind. He can also speak to other living persons who are open enough to hear him. He can travel with Lucy wherever she goes (as he does in the movie) but he is also all-knowing. He's aware of her children's thoughts, and can seemingly predict the future. He sometimes speaks about the afterlife, which is probably the only part of the book that I didn't really enjoy. It was very convoluted and while I get that it was supposed to be shrouded in mystery it ended up coming across instead like a half-formed idea. I'm glad that for the film they decided that calling him a "ghost" was a good enough explanation for why a dead guy could talk to and fall in love with Gene Tierney.
The last big difference came about when Lucy met Miles, George Sanders' character in the movie. While the basic circumstances remain the same -- he romances her and then she finds out that he was already married -- the details are wildly different. They meet outside, not at the publisher's, when Miles rescues Lucy's dog. They bond rather quickly and before you know it, Miles is asking Lucy to abandon her children and come away with him. He comes across as mildly smarmy in the movie but in the book he's downright gross. It also kind of bothered me that Lucy would even give his offer a moments thought -- throughout the entire book she is a strong-willed, level-headed woman but here she legitimately contemplates leaving her children with her horrible in-laws and running away with this first class cad. The fact that she would take his demands into consideration (instead of seeing them as a flashing warning sign that he was a big giant heap of trouble) was so much more heartbreaking than the eventual discovery that he was married.
There are other little differences here and there -- Blood and Swash comes into the story much later than it does in the film, and the adorable cook Martha doesn't move in until Lucy is already an empty-nester. Overall though it seemed like the screenwriters mostly shifted around the chapters, deleted a child here and a dog there, and that was about it. It's very similar, even a lot of my favorite lines from the movie came straight from the book! I particularly love when Lucy's sister-in-law says, "You want me to go - don't deny it - you want to be rid of your own husband's sister - don't deny it, I say." and Lucy replies calmly, "I am not denying it." Priceless!!
If you're a fan of the movie, you should definitely consider reading the book. It instantly transports you into the world of the film and for that reason alone it's worth many re-reads. If you haven't seen the movie yet, it's also a wonderful book on its own. Lucy is a very strong female protagonist (albeit not the best judge of character when it comes to smooth-talking dog rescuers) and the book actually has a lot of interesting observations about morality, religion and living a fulfilled life of solitude. I'm very glad I read it, and now I want to go watch the movie for the bazillionth time!