I'm having a Mapp and Lucia phase at the moment. I came to these wonderful books rather late; in fact in my mid-thirties. It was Fr Daniel Seward of the Oxford Oratory who introduced me to them at about the time I left that community, and it says something for my immediate desperation to read more that I took his copy of Queen Lucia away with me and had to post it back when I finished it. I find E.F.Benson's writing utterly entrancing and cripplingly funny; if the books have a fault it is that there are not enough of them. I am not the only one to think that, for others have tried to write more. Tom Holt made a pretty good stab at it, producing Lucia Triumphant and Lucia in Wartime, where he doesn't quite catch the limpid, acid, prose, but the storylines are pretty good. There has been a new Lucia book just published, called Major Benjy, by Guy Fraser-Sampson. As soon as I spotted it, I rushed to buy it, but have regretted the expense. Neither prose nor storyline hold a candle to even Tom Holt's books. The worst aspect, I think, is the way that he has utterly failed to catch the tone of Tilling (the town where most of the action takes place). Tom Holt himself is credited with saying 'Benson himself would have loved this book, and so will you'. I wonder if we are speaking of the same book. How could anyone think that, for instance, Benson would have loved coarse sexual innuendo? Gentility was the very essence of Benson's books. Major Benjy opens the door to Miss Mapp without his trousers; he gets seduced by his housekeeper; Irene Coles and Lucy plaster each other's naked bodies with paint…… need I go on? It is more redolent of Tom Sharpe (though without the genuine—though crude—acute humour of that talented writer) than Benson or even Tom Holt. The characters behave uncharacteristically, also. Mr Wyse regularly props up the bar of a local pub, for instance. In this, I think Fraser-Sampson followed something from the TV adaptation of Mapp and Lucia rather than the books themselves. Twistevant, the shopkeeper, is spelt in three different ways within the first fifty pages. And, frankly, the book is boring: I've given up half way through. How very disappointing. How tarsome, in fact.
I've been revisiting the Benson books by medium of my iPod. Some are available on iTunes, read wonderfully by Nadia May. Mapp and Lucia is read very well by Prunella Scales (who played Miss Mapp on TV). And now I have found the rest of the books on CD and am busy transferring them one by one to my iPod. Even the Tom Holt books are available in this form. I'm listening right now to Lucia in London, read by Geraldine McEwan (who played Lucia in the TV adaptation).
Which brings me on to the last topic, which is that of the TV adaptation. I didn't really think it was terribly good, I'm afraid, (though others disagree) and I think it's time for another try. The question is who one might get to play the chief roles. I've thought a lot about this, and I think that there are some very good candidates. I would love to see Penelope Keith play Lucia and Patricia Routledge play Miss Mapp: both of them are simply made for the role, I think. Georgie Pillson is a more difficult decision, but I wonder whether John Cleese wouldn't do it really well. All these three actors physically resemble their characters, and I'm sure could bend their considerable talents to the parts.