RANDOM HARVEST: I love 1940s movies — the era of great stars and melodramatic weepers. Case in point: Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in "Random Harvest." The movie, with two strong romantic leads, sent me in search of the 1941 book by James Hilton. Hilton is the author of two other classic book into movie transformations: "Good-Bye, Mr. Chips" (with Garson) and "Lost Horizon" (with Colman).
"Random Harvest" is the tale of industrial tycoon Charles Rainier, who remembers nothing after the German attack that wounded him in 1917. That event turned him into an almost mute amnesiac sent home from the front to a mental hospital. A car accident unexpectedly restores his memory in 1920 — except for those three missing years.
The book is a mystery story whose answers are slowly revealed to Rainier at the same time as they're revealed to us, literally until the last page. The film, however, opens with the tale of those missing years. We always know where Rainier's been and what happened. The suspense in the film comes from our foreknowledge as we wait and watch, wondering if Rainier will recover the secret of those lost years before it's too late.
Book or movie? I'd do both since one of the most enjoyable aspects of each format is comparing and contrasting the way each medium requires the story to unfold in a specific way that works best for readers or viewers.
RETURN TO GONE-AWAY: I found this little paperback a few years ago and stuck it on the bookshelves where it's languished until we had to empty the shelves for our remodeling project. It is the companion to the kid lit classic, "Gone-Away Lake." That's the story of three children who discover the remnants of a 19th century resort community built around a country lake that has disappeared and is now mostly bog. There's natural history, mystery, quirky characters, and nice family interactions. I was a young teen when I first read it and it still occupies a little corner of my brain reserved for time-travel dreams.
Though nothing can replace the thrill of reading the original book the first time, the sequel has its merits. Here we find the family from "Gone-Away" moving into one of the derelict mansions, the fantasy of many of us who love architecture and interior design. It's a perfect little read for a summer afternoon.
A couple of things in particular struck me while reading this as an adult: the description of the natural world, including garden plants, and the vocabulary. Big words are sprinkled throughout which probably makes it seem a very grown up book to youthful readers. I can't be absolutely sure, but I am guessing that this is where I first encountered tatterdemalion and ingenuous. The sequel is charmingly illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Beth and Joe Krush, who also illustrated the first book.