Book reviews

Archive for the ‘du Maurier – Daphne’ Category

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier


I was actually intending to re-read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca or Mary Anne when I came across The House on the Strand, so thinking I had not read this story before, chose it instead. I got a few chapters in before realising I had already read The House on the Strand too, but since I couldn’t remember what happened, decided to continue. (This blog is going to be a blessing as I grow older, as I will be able to check what I’ve already read. If my review says I liked a book and I truly can’t remember it, then I may well re-read it anyway).

The House on the Strand follows the adventures of a fellow called Dick, who has thrown in his boring job  – lucky chap – who can afford to do that anymore? In the meantime, Dick is spending time at a friend’s family home in Cornwall thinking about what he wants to do next. His American wife Vita wants him to take a similar job to the one he has recently left and move to New York, but Dick is not convinced that living in New York with his wife and stepsons will make him happy.

The house Dick is staying in belongs to his long-time friend Magnus, who is a biophysicist. Magnus has invented a drug and has asked Dick to trial it. When Dick takes the drug (this is a man in his thirties, mind you, not some teenager bowing to peer-pressure), he is transported to the past, where he becomes an unseen observer watching the affairs of the people who lived in the area over 600 years ago.

Each time Dick takes a trip to the past he becomes more and more interested in what is happening, to the point where he begins to confuse the events of the present and the past and wants to be there more than he does in his own time, particularly after Vita and the boys turn up unexpectedly in Cornwall.

Dick always follows a steward named Roger who is in love with the Lady Isolda during his time-travels. I felt more engaged with the characters from the present than those of the past though, and became a bit confused with all of the political intrigues from the 14th century sections of the story. Regardless of this, I still enjoyed the book.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the Cornwall landscape, both present and past. The changes caused by the sea over the years to the area where the book was set was fascinating. I also enjoyed reading of a sailing trip with the present day characters, some relishing the wind and waves and others becoming violently sea-sick. Growing up reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, I already have a mental image of a rugged coast line (and smuggler’s caves) in Cornwall and the descriptions of the coast in The House on the Strand did not disappoint.

The House on the Strand was written in the late 1960’s when the author was in her sixties, and I was surprised at her ability to have her characters use a drug similar to LSD in order to time travel, and to do it convincingly. (Not that I was around in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, nor have I used LSD, or time-travelled if it comes to that, but you know what I mean. I’m middle aged and have no idea about the fashion of today, let alone so I’m impressed that Daphne du Maurier did not make a fool of herself by telling a story using characters living a life-style which must have been alien to her own).

I’ll save a re-read of Rebecca for another time.





Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

JamaicaJamaica 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.

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