Review – Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain.

101205Hi guys and girls! Pegasus is back! I’ve just returned from visiting my home country of England, and have had the opportunity to buy, and read, a great book! In fact, I would even be as bold to say that it may well become a new favourite of mine! No, really, it is that good.
I’ve been in a bit of a book slump for the past month or so, and unfortunately, haven’t really read anything that has particularly related to me. This all changed however, when I was recommended James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce, by a friend of mine, who just so happens to also be a fellow film/literature fanatic… I mean fan…
Cain’s novel follows the title character, Mildred, and her family as they try and make it in post–depression California after Mildred and her husband separate. Mildred is forced to get a job, and then goes on to build herself up. Without giving too much away, we see Mildred’s trials and tribulations along the way, mostly due to her eldest daughter, Veda.
Being a film fan, I of course had heard of Mildred Pierce (both the Joan Crawford and Kate Winslet versions – being a huge Winslet fan, I own that particular version) and indeed the book by Cain. I knew the story, and knew the characters. When I started reading however, I was immediately brought into Cain’s world – not the world that I had seen on screen. Cain’s ability to accurately detail a scene without including unnecessary language and description is truly a talent. The reader is immediately transported to 1930’s California and into the Pierce household. Cain doesn’t miss a beat, and throws the reader into the middle of a clearly unhappy and withered marriage. What happens in the first few pages would probably shock the average reader of 1941 (the year of publication). Cain continues this kind of forward thinking and does not spare the reader from controversy.
The best and most intriguing aspect about Mildred Pierce are the characters. Not since Thomas Hardy, or perhaps Michael Cunningham, have I experienced such depth and complexity within the main characters, and indeed minor characters. Now bear in mind the novel was published in 1941 when complex female characters were a rarity, and indeed, attitudes towards females left a lot to be desired. Mildred is not your stereotypical 1940’s housewife; she knows what she wants and knows how to get it. Nothing is black and white with Cain – where there is good, there is evil and vice versa. One moment we will be rooting for Mildred, and a chapter later, we will be wondering if she is indeed any different from Veda. Even the minor characters such as Lucy Gessler, or Wally Lamb are well fleshed out and provide pivotal moments throughout the novel.
Reading this novel has opened up a whole new genre to me – Hardboiled fiction may well be my new obsession – and my wallet is not happy! However, I am, so that’s what counts! I shall definitely be reading more of Cain (in fact, I just received a compilation with four of his novels – The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce [already double dipping!]), and Serenade. I will also most likely look into the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet.
Anyway, that’s it until next week, and I shall leave you to go and read Mildred Pierce!
~ Pegasus.
Mildred Pierce