Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Lady Vanishes (AKA The Wheel Spins): Ethel Lina White

In 1938, Alfred Hitchcock released The Lady Vanishes, a film based on a book by Ethel Lina White, The Wheel Spins. The book was published in 1936. The film differs in many ways from the book, but having seen the film before, several times, I knew the basic premise of book. A young woman, Iris, meets an older lady while traveling on a train. They have tea and talk for a while, and then, Iris takes a nap. When she awakens, Miss Froy, the older woman, has disappeared, and the other people in the same carriage deny that there ever was a Miss Froy in the  carriage.

Iris frantically searches for the woman Miss Froy, and can not find her. When she asks other passengers on the train to comfirm that they saw her, no one will admit that she exists. Even other English passengers on the train from the hotel, who had seen Miss Froy on the train, deny that they saw her. They each have their own reasons, but that doesn't help Iris. 

The panic she feels when no one believes her or will listen to her is palpable. For various reasons, she lets herself be convinced that she imagined the old lady, that she was having hallucinations. The only other explanation is that there is a conspiracy afoot to cover up Miss Froy's absence, which seems ridiculous.

My thoughts...

This is a mystery, but it is also a character study and full of psychological suspense, with a bit of romance thrown in. It is hard for me to judge how much I was affected by previous viewings of the film when reading this book. I think it did cut down on some of the tension. I enjoyed reading the book and I preferred it to the film, if only because the characters are better developed.

The novel explored Iris's character and psychology. As the book opens, she is at the hotel, a remote vacation spot in Europe, with a large group of friends. She is kind of flighty, does not have a lot of self-confidence, drifts into relationships.  The friends are artificial, obnoxious, and shallow, and she grows tired of them. She decides not to leave the resort when they leave, but to wait until a day or two later. Thus when she runs into trouble on the train, she is alone and has no one to turn to. She does eventually find a young man her age who helps her out. Iris's behavior matures on this trip. She wants to throw off the superficiality of her previous life. 

I also liked that the book gives us brief glimpses of Miss Froy's family at home, with her parents and her dog eagerly awaiting her return from her governess job for a government official in a distant country.

We watched the 1938 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, again after I finished the novel. I enjoyed it as usual, although I noticed the changes to the story this time around. There is much more humor in the film, and the blossoming romance between Iris and a young man on the train is more believable. All the characters are different from the book. The ending is more tense and more thrillerish. 


The edition I read contained this novel plus one other by Ethel Lina White, The Spiral Staircase, which was first published as Some Must Watch in 1933.

Also see:

Christine Poulson's post at A Reading Life on Ethel Lina White and her career, titled A Forgotten Woman Crime Novelist.

Reviews at Clothes in Books, FictionFan's Book Reviews, and Crossexaminingcrime.



This is my first book read in September for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.





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Publisher:   Wordsworth Classics, 2015 (orig. publ. 1936)
Length:       157 pages (of tiny print)
Format:       Trade paperback
Setting:       Train trip through Europe
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy in 2017.


32 comments:

Cath said...

Well, the title of that is so familiar but the plot not so much. I must've seen the film because when you're our age you tend to have seen most of the older films when you were a kid. But honestly, I'm not sure I have and yet that title, as I said, is so familiar. I'll keep an eye out for this as I would quite like to read it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Always wondered it the humorous pair in the film, Caldicott and Charters came from the book or not.

TracyK said...

Cath, my husband has been tracking films we watched since 1989, and in that time we watched The Lady Vanishes only twice, which really surprises me. Once in 1989, once in 2001. And then just a few days ago. Of course, I probably watched it several times when I was younger. Anyway, I had forgotten all but the main plot of looking for and trying to find Miss Froy. The book covers much more time in the hotel and prior to boarding the train than in the film, and many characters in the book don't show up in the film. And vice versa.

I think you would enjoy the book.

TracyK said...

Patti, Charters and Caldicott are not in the book at all. Charters and Caldicott do show up in a second film, Night Train to Munich, which has a similar story to The Lady Vanishes. I want to watch that one again now.

Margot Kinberg said...

I liked this book very much, too, Tracy, and I agree that White develops the characters fairly well. The closed nature of a train added to the psychological suspense for me, and the unreliable narrator (just what really happened?) added to the tension, too. Glad you enjoyed the book.

TracyK said...

Margot, that is why I think I would have enjoyed it better, or at least in a different way, if I had not been so familiar with the story. I did not see her as an unreliable narrator, and I think that is the intention, that you have to consider that. Either way though, it was a good story.

Rick Robinson said...

Though I'm familiar with the titles, both of them, I've neither seen the films nor read the books. Alas.

TracyK said...

Rick, both the 1938 film and the book are good. There are two other adaptations, one in 1979 with Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould, and a BBC adaptation for TV in 2013. Don't know anything about those.

But there are plenty of other books to read. I had wanted to try something by her, and I will still read the second one in this edition, even though the small print is challenging.

I enjoyed A Siege of Bitterns and hope to read the 2nd book in the series sometime soon. I liked everything about the book, I will have to see how it goes as the series continues.

Lark said...

I love Hitchcock's movie version The Lady Vanishes! But your review really makes me want to find and read the book. :)

TracyK said...

Lark, it is definitely worth it to find a copy. Especially if you like the movie.

Sam Sattler said...

I've neither seen the movie nor read the book...now I want to do both.

TracyK said...

Sam, I hope you do get to see the movie and read the book, not necessarily in that order. They are a good bit different though, so it probably doesn't matter.

Kate said...

This is definitely in my top 4 reads by White. I watched the Hitchcock version after reading it, but I really didn't like the way the film hugely differs from the book. I found the thrillerish plot ridiculous. I would recommend watching the BBC TV adaptation - I think it was made in the early 2010s. I thought it was much more faithful to the original book, but still gives the ending more zip and tension. The ending in the book is possibly the weakest element of it. Some Must Watch, Fear Stalks the Village and The First He Died are other White novels I would strongly recommend.

CLM said...

I love the movie and have meant to read the book - now will definitely do so. I think my mother might have taken me to see it in a theater when I was a teen but have seen most of it on TV on at least one other occasion. Michael Redgrave was very attractive in his youth! Not sure I ever saw him in anything else.

I spent more time on trains recently than usual and thought about this movie quite often, especially once when the lights went out!

I once took a film class and planned to write a paper comparing two Hitchcock movies to the books they were based on - this would have been a good addition!

TracyK said...

Kate, This was the first novel I have read by White. I have read one short story before this. I will read Some Must Watch soon I hope. The only other book I have by White is She Faded into Air. I have read your review of that one and you did not like it as well as the others.

I do see what you mean about the thrillerish plot of the Hitchcock version, but don't mind that so much. I will see if I can find a way to see the BBC adaptation. I had read in a review that it was more faithful to the book.

TracyK said...

Constance, you should definitely read the book. I agree, Michael Redgrave was very attractive in The Lady Vanishes. According to Wikipedia, that was his first film role.

I have been following your trip and the thing I would like best would be the train rides. I am not much of a traveler.

Comparing Hitchcock's adaptations to the original works they were based on would be interesting. It seems like often he took a basic idea from the book and changed the approach or the ending quite a bit.

Christine said...

Glad you enjoyed this, Tracy. I thought the character of Miss Froy was so much interesting than the slightly dotty old lady in the film (though I do love the film as well).

TracyK said...

I agree with you, Christine. For the small amount of presence she has in the book, Miss Froy's character is surprisingly well developed and I liked her. Re-watching the film after all these years was fun.

Katrina said...

I've seen all of the films and enjoyed them although I think the 1938 version is my favourite.

TracyK said...

Katrina, I did not even know there were newer adaptations until recently. I had wondered about the 1979 film with Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould, because it has other actors in addition to the two stars that I enjoy. I haven't checked on its availability on streaming.

FictionFan said...

I must admit to preferring the film, but I de enjoy the book, especially the scenes with Miss Froy's parents which really filled out her character. But the film has so much humour and is such a classic of British wartime patriotism.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, I was glad I finally got around to reading the book. Both the book and the film are favorites because I love books and films on trains. I also liked the scenes with Miss Froy's parents, and the dog.

col2910 said...

I'll have to keep an eye out for the film. I don't think I've the time or the inclination to seek out and read the book, I'm afraid.

TracyK said...

The book is probably not your type of reading, Col, but you probably would enjoy the film.

PDP said...

There is also a UK TV series starring the Charters and Caldicott characters.

TracyK said...

PDP, I did know this, but not when I wrote this post. We just went to a book sale last week and I found a novel about Charters and Caldicott, which my husband purchased. I could not figure out whether the book was based on the TV series or vice versa, but that was the first mention of the BBC miniseries that we had seen.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

How come I haven't read it yet! I enjoy classic mysteries. Added to my TBR, thanks

dfordoom said...

Night Train to Munich is not a bad movie. Directed by Carol Reed, one of the few directors I'd rate as being every bit Hitchcock's equal.

As for Ethel Lina White's The Lady Vanishes novel I have to say that I preferred Hitchcock's movie. I also much preferred Robert Siodmak's film of The Spiral Staircase more than White's novel.

TracyK said...

Emma, The Lady Vanishes (or The Wheel Spins) is definitely worth reading. I think it took me a long time to find a copy when I looked before and I wanted a vintage paperback. It was easier to find in a new copy (but still with tiny print).

TracyK said...

Dfordoom, we have a copy of Night Train to Munich, must have purchased it when we wanted some films set on a train. We enjoyed it and I hope we watch it again soon.

The story in Some Must Watch sounds too creepy for me, but I will read it anyway and will probably like it better than expected. I would also like to watch the film, but it seems even creepier. We will probably get a copy; my husband thinks I would like it.

dfordoom said...

Tracy, I love love love mysteries/thrillers/spy movies set on trains.

I assume you've seen THE NARROW MARGIN? Best train movie ever.

ROME EXPRESS and SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE are worth a look if you haven't seen them. SLEEPERS WEST is reasonably enjoyable as well (if you like Lloyd Nolan it's very enjoyable).

TracyK said...

Dfordoom, now you have given me more train movies to look for. We have not seen THE NARROW MARGIN, but my husband is familiar with it and we would like to. We may have to rent it from Amazon Prime.

We have watched all of Lloyd Nolan's Mike Shayne movies (I think) and have copies of them. So we have watched SLEEPERS WEST and enjoyed it.

ROME EXPRESS and SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE are new to me, I will look into them.