Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Daphne du Maurier’

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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The Classics Club dared members to get their Goth on during October, to read a book from our list which we had classified as a thriller, mystery, or goth. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was my choice.

It has been a very long time since I first read Rebecca and I know now that I didn’t appreciate it then as I should have. I expect I was too young for the book back then, much like the book’s heroine. In some ways, Rebecca is a coming of age story, just as much as it is a gothic romance, or a mystery.

How young and inexperienced I must have seemed, and how I felt it, too.

The story is narrated by a nameless heroine who is a young and socially inexperienced orphan, shy, awkward and put-upon by her employer, Mrs Van Hopper, a loud, brash American for whom she works as a companion.

While in Monte Carlo, Mrs Van Hopper forces an acquaintance with a fellow guest, Max de Winter, whose name she knows from the newspapers as being the wealthy owner of Manderley, a mansion in Cornwall, and whose glamourous wife died recently in a tragic accident. When Mrs Van Hopper becomes ill, Maxim and the young woman escape her company, driving all over Monte Carlo and the surrounding area for a couple of weeks. When Mrs Van Hopper recovers she decides suddenly to return to the United States, and the 42-year old Maxim asks the young woman to marry him.

After their marriage and a brief honeymoon they return to Manderley where the young woman almost immediately begins comparing herself with her predecessor, the beautiful, capable and popular first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca. Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, particularly resents the young woman for intruding on the memory of Rebecca, whom she adored. Even the dog was Rebecca’s first.

At Manderley Maxim becomes less available and amusing and the young woman begins to obsess over what she perceives as her own shortcomings, in her distinctively tentative, anxious voice. She believes Maxim regrets their marriage and doubts that their marriage will ever be a success, particularly after his anger when she unknowingly wore a replica of a costume to Manderley’s annual costume ball that Rebecca previously wore.

Rebecca reminded me a little of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in that both heroines were involved with much older men and had the ghost of a former wife to deal with. Both also had to deal with being socially inferior, and less experienced and important than the men of their choice, although the narrator of Rebecca seemed to me to be overly self-obsessed, always worrying about what other people might be thinking or saying about her. In all fairness, this trait is typical of a girl or woman of her age, but at times I wanted to tell her that other people spend far less time thinking about her than she thinks they do.

I also snickered when Maxim asked the heroine when he asked her to marry him, “Does forty-two seem very old to you?” I wanted to tell him yes, Maxim, you idiot, of course you’re too old and experienced for the young and timorous heroine. And don’t go thinking I’m being a dog in the manger about you, because you’re actually a bit too young for me…

Part of the charm of the story is the heroine being un-named. Wondering what on earth her “beautiful and unusual” name could possibly be set the tone of the story for me. Everything was a mystery. Everything represents something else. The showy red rhododendrons are Rebecca, the aroma of azaleas are Rebecca, even Manderley itself is a secretive, mysterious character.

Daphne du Maurier’s evocative descriptions of Manderley’s house and gardens and the beaches leave me wanting to visit Cornwall more than ever. One day…

I loved Rebecca and am intending a re-read soon.

Well, it is over now, finished and done with. I (read) no more tormented and both of us are free. *

Rebecca was book three for my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.

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Apologies to Daphne du Maurier, whose actual quote is as follows:

*Well, it is over now, finished and done with. I ride no more tormented and both of us are free.

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My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

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If you haven’t read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier and intend to, don’t read my review. This story should be read without having anyone else’s ideas already in your head.

I’m re-reading my way through Daphne du Maurier’s works and am enjoying them even more the second time around. To date, My Cousin Rachel has been my favourite re-read.

The story is narrated by Philip Ashley, a young man who lives on the coast of Cornwall. The time the story is set is unknown, it’s not this century or the last, but probably the one before, when murderer’s corpses were left hanging at crossroads as a warning to other would-be murderers.

Philip was brought up in his cousin Ambrose’s all-male household where he is taught the alphabet by swear words, has the run of the estate which will one day be his and is loved as much as a nephew could be. When Philip reaches his early twenties Ambrose begins to travel abroad during winter for his health, and one spring he does not return, because, Ambrose writes Philip, he has met a distant cousin in Florence, with whom he has fallen in love and married.

Philip is angry, jealous and lonely left behind in Cornwall but as time goes on, he receives odd letters from Ambrose which worry him enough to pack his bags and make the three-week trip to Florence to be with Ambrose. On his arrival in Italy Philip learns that Ambrose has died and that his wife Rachel has left Florence with Ambrose’s things. Ambrose’s father died from what was thought to have been a brain tumour and the reports Philip receives from the servants suggest Ambrose suffered a similar death, however Philip suspects Rachel of having poisoned Ambrose.

Philip returns to Cornwall, broken-hearted, to break the sad news to their servants, community and friends. Philip is just shy of turning 25, at which age he will inherit the house and estate, which includes money, art and jewels.

Soon after Philip’s return to Cornwall, Rachel writes to Philip’s god-father advising she is in Cornwall and has with her Ambrose’s possessions to return to Philip. Begrudgingly, Philip invites Rachel to stay with him. She does, and soon charms him and the rest of his bachelor’s establishment with her smiles and flowers and feminine charms. Philip falls in love with the intriguing Rachel well before his all-important 25th birthday, leaving his childhood friend Louise feeling hurt and embarrassed.

So, if you’ve read this far and haven’t read My Cousin Rachel but intend to, please stop reading now. I’m going to work through some of my questions about a few ambiguous plot areas which will spoil the story for you.

The biggest question is, did Rachel poison Ambrose or not? Philip believed she did initially, then changed his mind when he fell in love with her. I don’t think Rachel did poison Ambrose as he hadn’t made a signed will in her favour before his death. Plus, Rachel seemed to truly love Ambrose. She certainly listened to him well enough to remember the stories he told her, and if that isn’t a sign of loving someone, then I don’t know what is…

Did Rachel come to Cornwall with the intention of seducing Philip so that he would sign over the estate to her? Yes, I think so. Even if she didn’t think she would be able to get the whole estate from him, she must have been hoping for an annuity.

Did Rachel poison Philip? Probably. Life would have been easier without him hanging around her with his puppy-dog eyes, alternately begging her or humping her leg.

Was Rainaldi in love with Rachel? I can’t decide. What do you think?

Is Philip a murderer? I’m not sure… but I think that morally, yes, he was. Not passing on the information necessary to keep someone else safe would have him charged with manslaughter if a similar incident happened on a building site. Did he get charged? Not sure, but I don’t think so as Louise and the foreman were the only people who knew or suspected that he let Rachel cross the faulty bridge and I don’t think either of them spoke out against him because in the first chapter, Philip said he carries the burden of blame alone when he considered his future after Rachel’s death.

I would love to know what anybody else thinks of these or other questions you wondered about after reading My Cousin Rachel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

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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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