Gordon Williams - The Siege of Trencher's Farm (1969)
- Tim Abrahams
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
The Siege of Trencher's Farm achieved notoriety when it was adapted and released as the nasty, brutish Straw Dogs by Sam Peckinpah. The British Board of Film Censors subsequently banned the movie until 2002 because of its graphic violence and a particularly horrific rape. The Siege is a very different beast despite the plot similarities. In Williams' book, as in the film, an American male academic rents a house with his estranged wife in England's West Country and then must defend his homestead from vigilante locals. Peckinpah's film simplifies Williams' more complex plot and argument to a hideous degree.
The academic, Magruder, is writing about Branksheer, an 18th century diarist, a man who was 'at home with Ovid or a London whore, a complete man'. His violent defence of his home is to protect his child and prevent the child molester who falls into his hands from being murdered. An extreme metaphor for the besieged liberal, Peckinpah's hero starts off as an ineffectual mathematician who only becomes a man through bloody deeds. For him, 'a complete man' is the one that kills the most.
Although Williams' book is primarily a deliberation on how traditional masculine values find a place in modern society, it also reflects the differences between American and European liberalism at the end of the 60s. Williams is no Henry James but his writing invests value in a civilisation, something that Peckinpah appears to reject. The Siege is also a fascinating watershed between the author's early literary period, as exhibited in his brilliant Booker short-listed examination of Scottish masculinity, From Scenes Like These, and Hazell, the high paced, testosterone-fuelled detective series he co-wrote with Terry Venables when the latter was still a player at Queen's Park Rangers.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.