Friday, 7 August 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE TRAP by John Burke

The Trap by John Burke is a Pan Books original published in paperback in 1966. Although this book is a film tie-in novel the reader has a novel that not only brings the film to life but gives a lot more in the 152 pages.
It is 1849 British Columbia and fur trapper Jean La Bete is looking for a wife and hoping to make a profit with his furs. He arrives in town as a ship docks bringing in 'mail order brides' and, as luck would have it, there is one spare as the purchaser has died. A dockside auction is held but La Bete is outbid and would have to wait another year before another batch would be brought in.
The same ship also brings in a piano for trader McKenzie's spoilt daughter - but as events unfold it becomes clear that it is La Bete's money that has paid for it.
Mrs McKenzie has illusions of grandeur and her home is decked out as though it is one of the fine houses that she has seen in San Francisco. Their servant, Eve, was saved fro m an Indian massacre where she had seen her mother tortured and raped. From that moment on Eve has been mute.
When La Bete comes for his gold Mrs McKenzie sees a way out of a predicament. "Last night," she says. "you wanted a wife. For a thousand dollars I can give you one today."
And so Eve is sold to Jean La Bete.
From here on in there are only two characters in this book and they are La Bete and Eve. And it is also here that the book departs from the movie for John Burke gives more depth to the characters.
Not only are they faced with survival in a hostile territory where wolves, bears and cougars are ever present predators but with their own personal problems. At first La Bete's attempts to assert his rights over his 'wife' are rebuffed. Nor is it long before the reader is involved with a story about dependence and communication.
Eve cannot communicate her own feelings and La Bete has difficulty in understanding her.
La Bete teaches her how to trap and what to look for and how to fish. In once instance sends her home while he inspects a bear trap. Here he is attacked by a cougar and falls into his own trap. Attracted by the smell of blood the wolves come and harrass La Bete as he tries to drag himself and the trap towards the safety of his cabin. His survival now depends on Eve who helps to free him from the trap and she has no alternative but to amputate his leg.
What is so good is that it the reader who is aware that this is a pivotal moment in the book while both principles are not sure how to relate to this revalation.
John Burke has such a descriptive flair in this book - "At first impact it was nearly stopped by a wall of water and then, rising to the crest, (the canoe) leapt forward like a salmon and smacked down on the raging surface beyond." - and gives great depth to the characters of La Bete and Eve that the reader cares about what happens to them.
I have found this book listed on Amazon.