Monday, October 8, 2012

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

Oops! Read this a bit ago and did not post. The 39 Steps is more like a novella than a full-fledged novel. It was written in 1915 and first appeared in serial form in a popular British magazine. It has served the basis for a loosely conceived adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock for his film  of the same title that was released in 1935. It is also the parent work for the stage adaptation now appearing in London.  I wanted to read it before seeing the play in London later in the year. Like the film adaptation, the play is very LOOSELY based on the book. 

Set in 1914 The 39 Steps is one of the earliest examples of the spy novel. Its protagonist and narrator is Richard Hannay who becomes entangled in intelligence that informs him that the Greek premier is going to be assassinated by German operatives. The informant who delivers this message to Hannay is found the next day murdered in Haney's flat. Figuring that he is the most likely suspect, Hannay escapes London for Scotland. What ensues is twisted series of escapes, retreats into hideaways, and the culminating solution to the intelligence report. Typical of even today's spy novels, there are a multitude of characters and plot layers designed to confuse the reader. 

This was a fairly quick read and I was anxious to see the movie. However, Hitchcock took much liberty in his adaptation. To say loosely adapted is an understatement. From reading reviews of the theatre performance, it seems evident that The 39 Steps has been turned into a somewhat comedic play with only 4 actors. 

A good read to give some literary background to a standard genre today.

No comments: