Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier is the kind of book that once you get about half way through, you have to keep reading until the end, preferably without stopping. The story builds up and up and up until the temptation to peek at the last chapter to check on the heroine’s safety is almost unbearable.
Jamaica Inn is situated on the moors of Cornwall and has a reputation as a dangerous, unwelcoming place. The moors are desolate, full of places where a person could be lost in boggy marshes. Even the weather seems threatening throughout this novel, as the moors are cold and foggy with almost constant rain. The loneliness and discomfort of the location and the nasty weather add a lot to the atmosphere of this story.
Mary Yellan is the heroine of Jamaica Inn. Mary was in her twenties when her mother died, when she left her family farm to live with her aunt and uncle at Jamaica Inn. Mary remembered her Aunt Patience as fun loving and joyful before her marriage, but on arriving at the Inn, Mary finds her aunt has become cringing and frightened, unable to think or act for herself after years of marriage to Joss Merlyn, who is an absolute brute of a man.
Mary very quickly discovers that her Uncle Joss appears to be leading a gang of criminals, who are using Jamaica Inn as a halfway house for stolen goods. Mary dislikes her Uncle Joss enormously on sight and grows to hate him when she realises he is a wrecker who, with other thieves and murderers, lures ships to the shore using false lights, then kills any survivors of the ship wreck to prevent them telling tales.
All good gothic novels have a romance, and Jamaica Inn is a very good gothic novel. Mary’s attraction to Joss’s brother Jem is convincing, but there is also an undercurrent of tension between Joss and Mary (mostly on his side, but a little on hers also). Joss’s feelings for Mary probably save her life on more than one occasion. The author’s line about attraction and aversion running side by side gave me chills down my back, as did the dreadfulness of some later events in the novel, which I won’t spoil here for those who plan to read this book sometime.
Mary’s opinion about romance is fascinating too. The matter of fact way that she recognises courting couples who are crazy about each other will very soon grow tired of each other is tragic and hard to forget.
I first read Jamaica Inn when I was in my twenties, but even after all of this time, the book was still quite familiar to me and I remembered most of the twists and turns in the story. This didn’t spoil my re-reading of the story at all, although there is always something special about reading a terrifying book for the first time.