THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM is a reissue by Titan Books just out Tuesday of the novel that inspired the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film Straw Dogs, starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, as well as the remake debuting next month.
Never seen the movie myself, but a Wikipedia entry details the differences and they are considerable. The new film shifts the location from England to Los Angeles.
American professor George Magruder and his English wife Louise, along with their young daughter Karen, have taken a six month lease on an isolated home in an English parish known locally as Trencher’s Farm. He wants the time to finish the book he’s been writing and maybe rekindle something in his marriage. Louise and he argue quite frequently, usually about things not really important. In his eyes anyway.
The parish is an insular society. Most are born there, live there, marry from there, and rarely travel far from the area. George stops occasionally at the small pub for a pint, but is shy and comes off s the “arrogant rich American.”
It’s near Christmas and the village is throwing a party for the children. George and his family attend. When Santa pops in, a small girl from one of the poorer farm families is frightened and slips out the door into the snow storm. By the time anyone notices, she’s good and lost. A search party is organized and George decides to take his family home before returning to help with the search.
At the same time, a van from a nearby mental asylum has brought one of it’s patients in for a medicinal shot. Henry Niles had lived there for nine years. A convicted child killer, three of them, he had the mind of a child himself. On the way back in the storm, the van sides in the ice, rolls several times, and Niles finds himself free, wandering in the storm.
George and Louise and arguing when Niles suddenly rears up in front of them and they hit him with their car. Quickly bundling him into the vehicle, they get him home and call for the doctor. It is only then they realize who he is. The police can’t get their vehicles through when they call and decide to walk in, nine miles.
These three incidents set the stage for what follows.
Word spreads quickly in the village and folks assume Niles has done something with the girl. One party shows up at the house demanding the Magruders turn Niles over to them. George knows Niles couldn’t have done anything to the child. The distances and the storm won’t allow for it. The trio are easily fended off.
Then the father of the missing girl shows up, with a shotgun, and hooks up with the first group. A bottle of liquor is being passed around. they want niles, who will certainly tell them where he left the girl.
George is an academic, a mild man who abhors violence. He has no weapons. He’s all that stands between a drunk mob with weapons and his family. he has to dig something out that he didn’t know he had.
This one was a page turner. In looking at the trailers for the two versions of Straw Dogs, the focus seems entirely different. Basic plot is the same, but there seems to be a rape scene that never happens in the book. It’s the story of a man that has to defend his family, a man who thought he wasn’t capable of some of the things he’s called to do. But easily slips into them.