My final post (I promise) for #DDMreadingweek – two days late as well. I got rather carried away with my reading, starting Mary Anne which at 385 pages I knew full well I wouldn’t finish in time. In Mary Anne, Du Maurier has introduced us to an incredible character – and one who came straight from life.

Mary Anne Clarke (nee Thompson) was Daphne Du Maurier’s great great grandmother a woman whose ambition, and love of money and power directed her whole life. This biographical novel is based on the life of the woman who scandalised early nineteenth century London, taking us from Bowling Inn Alley where she was born and raised to the very seat of power.

In this novel Daphne Du Maurier explores the differences in power between men and women – it’s a world of contradictions (what’s changed?) where men can get away with almost anything, and women are vulnerable and judged. In her introduction to this edition Lisa Hilton describes Mary Anne as Du Maurier’s most feminist novel.

Living in Bowling Inn Alley with her mother, siblings and step-father Mary Anne grew up without the benefit of a formal education – she taught herself to read and write.

“Words fascinated her, the shape of the curling letters, how some, by repeating themselves more often, had importance. They had difference of sex too. The a’s the e’s and u’s were women; the hard g’s, the b’s and q’s were all men, and seemed to depend on the others.”

By the age of thirteen she could correct copy for her sick stepfather; a printer in the world of the pamphleteers – pouring out scandal and criticism of the government to anyone with the pennies to purchase the sheets. A benefactor – whose intentions are anything but honourable – steps forward and offers to send Mary Anne away to school. Here she will learn more than mere lessons – she begins to throw off her cockney origins, perfecting her natural poise and charm that she will make such good use of in the years ahead. She also learns quickly about the real differences between men and women.

“Injustice – there was always injustice between men and women. Men made the laws to suit themselves. Men did as they pleased, and women suffered for it. There was only one way to beat them, and that was to match your wits against theirs and come out the winner.”

She marries somewhat hastily at just sixteen to a young man who had lodged for a while in her mother’s house – a young man with a wealthy father – who claimed to have good prospects. Joseph Clarke is feckless and a drinker – cut off by his father – he and his young wife end up living on the sympathies of his brother. A nice house, in a nice area – but Mary Anne wants better – she always wants better – for herself and for the children who soon come along.

Having separated herself from Joseph, Mary Anne enters into the world of the society courtesan. She has a very nice house rent free – where her mother and children live alongside her – and late in the evening, her gentlemen come to call. By the early 1800s Mary Anne’s particular charms have come to the attention of HRH The Duke of York, and he sets her up as his mistress – and the household have to move again – to an even better house. The Duke likes to spend time in a proper home – where he can hear the children running around on the floors above him – and he’s used to a certain standard of living.

Unfortunately, the Duke is not very worldly in matters of money – or so he claims – and so the allowance he gives to Mary Anne for the upkeep of his second home is nothing like enough. In the early days Mary Anne is granted credit everywhere – everyone knows who she is, and under whose protection she exists – but in time the bills come due – and Mary Anne is desperate for money. Everywhere are men who offer advice – making suggestions, tempting Mary Anne with promises of large sums of money.

The Duke of York is the Commander in Chief of the British army – and there are lots of military men keen to get promotions or exchanges – and other men keen to take advantage of Mary Anne’s influence with the Duke. Mary Anne enters into the thriving and very lucrative trade of army commissions.

All good things they say come to an end – and in time the inevitable happens, and Mary Anne is out of favour. Without the protection of the Duke, Mary Anne is vulnerable – but never easily shaken – resourceful and determined – wanting always to protect her younger brother Charley and her three children. The scandal of the trade in commissions ricochets through London, and Mary Anne is obliged to testify in the House of Commons – a woman in a world of men she is often heard to say afterwards. Her testimony leads to the resignation of the Duke as Commander in Chief.

“Dozing, she thought in retrospect how her life had been building up towards this moment, year in, year out, almost from alley days. That early training, as a cockney child, sharpened her wit and made her seize her chances: the schooling at Ham put on a pseudo-polish: marriage with Joseph got the worst over young—so much so, that nothing a man could do, now or in the future, would break her heart. As to the rest… all lovers made some mark. She knew how to absorb the benefit and pass it on, be grateful for the teaching. What she had learned from men, not only lovers, was to the purpose in a man-made world. Therefore, become their equal. Play their game, and add to the game the sense of intuition.” 

Mary Anne continues to chase the life she once had with the Duke – she takes up her pen once more, as she once did back in Bowling Inn Alley. Her writing is destined to take her to court rooms, a prison cell and finally exile in France. Throughout it all, Mary Anne is a woman who it is hard to bet against. She’s a shoulders back, head up kind of woman – no matter what life throws at her – she greets it with her own inimitable poise.

Mary Anne is another compelling story from Daphne Du Maurier – a warts and all portrait of a larger than life character. Du Maurier faithfully recreates the atmosphere of Regency London, as ever her sense of place and period is spot on.

So Daphne Du Maurier reading week is over – and it has been wonderful – so I am really going to miss it. Thank you everyone who made it so successful – let’s do it again next year shall we?

So, there was only one thing left to do – and that was to draw the winners for my giveaway (I can’t promise there will one of those every year).

I drew two winners names last night and the winners are:

Liz D won a copy of Rebecca – slightly embarrassing as regular readers of both our blogs will know Liz and I are good friends IRL but I can assure you all it was done completely randomly.

Judith Field won a copy of Rule Britannia – you will all be relieved to hear Judith and I are complete strangers.

Congratulations to both winners – really hope you enjoy your new Du Maurier books.

I am getting very close to the end of Mary Anne – my third read for Daphne Du Maurier reading week ( I did start early). So I shall be reviewing that tomorrow all being well. After which the Daphne Du Maurier content may stop for a while – however I am continuing to add links to the DDM page – which I urge to take a look at – lots of fabulous blog posts and reviews to explore. The page will stay up for sometime yet – probably the end of the year.

A quick reminder to you all that you have two days left to take part in #DDMreadingweek. Which means you also have two more days to take part in the giveaway I am running too.

It’s been wonderful to see so many people chatting on Twitter and I have really enjoyed reading all the reviews that have been popping up. Please take time to go to my DDM reading week page and check out the articles and reviews that have been appearing throughout the week, I am doing my best to catch up, and, if there are any I have missed, please let me know. I shall continue to add links after Sunday too – so don’t worry if you’re planning a post for next week.  

You may not be surprised to hear that I have added some Daphne Du Maurier to my tbr too during the week.

The first was a birthday gift from a good friend at work. Letters from Menabilly – a portrait of a friendship. It is the letters from Daphne Du Maurier to the writer Oriel Malet. The collection is edited by Oriel Malet and there appears to be a nice long prologue from Malet in which she discusses how she met the older Du Maurier and the friendship between the two developed.

The second I couldn’t resist – even knowing I wouldn’t be reading it this week. Several people talking about The Parasites on Twitter – convinced me I would love it. The novel concerns three siblings who grew up in the shadow of their famous, theatrical parents.

Not sure when I will get around to reading them – with my tbr the way it is, it really could be a while.

Several people have mentioned/hinted at me doing this again next year. I can’t see why not – if you would like to do this again next year – let me know.

I’m currently reading Mary Anne – but really very unlikely to review it before Monday or Tuesday – I was just enjoying my Daphne Du Maurier reading so much I decided to carry on. Mary Anne is a biographical novel about a real life figure – Mary Anne Clarke – Daphne Du Maurier’s great-great grandmother – Daphne Du Maurier really did have an extraordinary family.

Thank you again to everyone who has been joining in – or cheering from the side-lines – it’s been lovely to see so much enthusiasm for Daphne Du Maurier.

The kind of book review that I sometimes find the hardest to write is the review of a book that I loved as much as I did this one. This was a book I wanted to carry around with me hugging it to my chest – like a child with a new favourite toy. I wanted to read and read and never have it end. Daphne Du Maurier is that kind of writer – she grabs your attention in those first few sentences and doesn’t let go. I remember that feeling well from when I read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel – reading Daphne Du Maurier can be drug like which is appropriate when it comes to The House on the Strand.

Probably one of the reasons I hadn’t read this before is because I knew it concerned time-travel and that rather put me off. Ha, it’s a funny old thing this reading malarkey – no time-travel novels ever before – then two in one month. Anyway, I really shouldn’t have been put off – this is time travel Du Maurier style. In this novel Du Maurier blends the past and present beautifully – we become aware of how landscape may change over centuries – yet the basic shape of the land on which we live is essentially unchanged. Houses, whole communities may come and go but the curve of a hill, the sweep of a bay is much the same. We walk in the footsteps of others – those who came before us and who we will never know. I always adored history – and once upon a time I read a lot more historical fiction than I do now. In this novel Daphne Du Maurier celebrates the Cornwall of her present and our collective past – the sense of place is strong, her love of this land palpable.

“The world of today asleep, and my world not awakened, or not as yet, until the drug possessed me.”

Dick Young has been loaned an old house in Cornwall for the summer. Kilmarth belongs to Dick’s friend Professor Magnus Lane. The Professor let’s Dick into a secret – he has been experimenting with a new drug, a drug that will take the user a world away from any problems they may have. Magnus offers Dick the chance to be his guinea-pig – the drug is stored in three bottles in Magnus’s basement laboratory at Kilmarth – Magnus gives Dick his instructions over the phone – and Dick takes his first dose. The drug will take Dick back to the fourteenth century – to the world of Roger Kylmerth steward to Sir Henry Champernoune.

“The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me the shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew.”

It’s a world of danger, disease and intrigue, where young monk connives with the lady of the house to bring an end to one thought to be dying. Where allegiances change and adultery can lead to death. With Roger as his unknowing guide – Dick witnesses whispered intrigues, adultery and murder. He is unable to interact with this world – he is an invisible witness – should Dick attempt to touch anyone from the fourteenth century he is brought crashing back to the present, suffering violent nausea, vertigo and confusion.

While Dick’s conscious mind is in the past – his body remains in his own time – so as Dick follows Roger across the Cornish landscape of the past – he could unwittingly be walking under a car in his own time. Dick is aware of the dangers – and is yet to discover whether Magnus’s drug will have any lasting effect upon his mind or body – but it is too late – Dick has been captivated by the past. After just one visit – Dick is longing to return – and keen to ring up Magnus and share his experiences with the only person in the world he can.

In the present time – Dick is waiting for the arrival of his American wife Vita, and her two sons from a previous marriage. He loves Vita and has a good relationship with his step-sons who simply adore him – but Dick is immediately set on preventing Vita arriving too early – he wants a few days to himself to continue his adventures.

It’s not long before he takes another dose of Magnus’s drug. Sometimes the aftereffects are almost non-existent, at other times violent and distressing, Dick has no wish for Vita to see him like that. However, Vita is not easily put off – and arrives two days earlier than expected. The two boys are never happier than when out and about – especially when enjoying boat trips organised by their step-father. Vita is not so easily placated – and senses almost immediately that something is wrong – she is inclined to blame Magnus – who she has never really liked. Vita is anxious to persuade Dick to move permanently to the States, to accept the job she has arranged through friends. Weary after years in a job in London he has tired of, Dick is not ready to make any big decisions.

“I realized at that moment, more strongly than hitherto, how fantastic, even macabre, was my presence amongst them, unseen, unborn, a freak in time, witness to events that had happened centuries past, unremembered, unrecorded; and I wondered how it was that standing here on the steps, watching yet invisible, I could so feel myself involved, troubled, by these loves and deaths.”

Dick gets drawn further and further into the world of fourteenth century Cornwall – taking more and more trips – captivated to the point of obsession by the beautiful, fragile Isolde. As the trips into the past continue and increase, Dick becomes less present in the modern world – everything he is doing is hidden from Vita – and Dick is withdrawing more and more from family life.

The House on the Strand is wonderfully compelling, Du Maurier’s fourteenth century world is a real and credible place – the inhabitants of which become every bit as fascinating to the reader as they are to Dick Young.

Daphne Du Maurier reading week started yesterday, but I began my reading last week – mainly because I am quite busy, and I wanted to read and review at least two books. I decided to begin with The Breaking Point – a collection of short stories is always a good choice for a busy week. It’s an excellent collection.

Eight stories of suspense that often cross the boundaries of reality, Du Maurier’s imagination is extraordinary – so you never quite know what she’ll throw at you, that’s exciting. In these stories, we see characters who have reached their breaking point. Stories which take us from the residential streets of London, to the wards of a nursing home, to Venice, a fictional European state, Hollywood and the Devon moors.

The collection opens with The Alibi – the Fentons are a dull middle-aged couple – their lives are unchanging, a walk every Sunday afternoon, drinks with the Alhusons, who are just as dull. One day James Fenton can’t take it anymore – and decides he must vary the routine. On a whim – he walks down a different street and selects a door to knock on.

“Fenton took off his hat. The impulse was strong within him to say, ‘I have come to strangle you, You and your child. I bear you no malice whatever. It just happens that I am the instrument of fate sent for this purpose.’ Instead, he smiled. The woman was pallid like the child on the steps, with the same expressionless eyes, the same lank hair. Her age might have been anything from twenty to thirty-five. She was wearing a woollen cardigan too big for her, and her dark, bunched skirt, ankle-length, made her seem squat.

‘Do you let rooms?’ asked Fenton.”

Fenton then enters into a peculiar double life – for months spending his afternoons in the basement room where he takes up painting. Throughout this brilliantly plotted story the reader waits, heart in mouth for something terrible to happen.

The Blue Lenses is surely the most disturbing and memorable story in the collection. Marda West rests patiently in a nursing home, following an operation on her eyes. Her eyes have been bandaged for days – temporary blue lenses have been put into her eyes – which will be replaced by permanent ones after a couple of days. Mrs West has befriended the gentle, soothing nurse who looks after her – arranging for her to spend a week of her holiday nursing Marda in her convalescence (not much of a holiday, I agree). She looks forward eagerly to her husband’s visits. She is eagerly anticipating the removal of the bandages – what will she see through these blue lenses? The operation appears to have been entirely successful, but Marda can’t even begin to imagine what will happen when the bandages are removed.

In Ganymede a classical scholar travels to Venice where he is almost instantly drawn to a young waiter who he casts as his own Ganymede. Utterly besotted he returns to the same bar each evening. However, the beautiful young man also has an uncle, a tout the tourist is unable to rid himself of, the man appears everywhere, even arranging for a change of accommodation. It’s a story that plays cleverly on our own fears and paranoia – and is wonderfully atmospheric but the scene is set for tragedy.  

In The Pool two children return to their grandparents house for their summer holidays. The garden has been there waiting for them all year – and Deborah has spent the whole year dreaming of it – and being back there.

“Surely sometimes it must mock the slow steps of Grandpa pacing up and down the terrace in front of the windows, or Grandmama calling to Patch? The garden has to endure month after month of silence, while the children were gone. Even the spring and the days of May and June were wasted, all those mornings of butterflies and darting birds, with no one to watch by Patch gasping for breath on a cool stone slab. So wasted was the garden, so lost.”

Deborah takes herself off to the pool at the end of the garden – having thrown off her brother – she wants to experience it by herself. Here she enters a secret, alternative world – and one that could be terrifyingly perilous.

Other stories take us to rather less well known locations, a fictional kingdom in Europe in The Archduchess, where revolution threatens to topple the ruling family – who are gifted with the secret of eternal youth.

In The Menace – the least sinister story – a Hollywood movie star has been the darling of the silver screen for years. With the advent of a new medium – ‘the feelies’ he is found wanting – the feeling he gives off just not strong enough. Something must be done.

In The Chamois an obsessional hunter journeys to the Kalabaka in the Pindus mountains of Greece to hunt the elusive chamois. His wife is to accompany him, she doesn’t understand his obsession. The two set out, with a strange, frozen eyed guide who leads them up the mountain to where the chamois have been seen.

In The Lordly Ones, a young mute boy is taken by his parents from their home in Exeter to the moors. No one ever explains anything to him – he is treated cruelly and negligently – so the child’s imagination fills in the gaps of his understanding – leading to even more confusion. My heart broke for this child – who while watching from his window sees The Lordly Ones and decides to join them.

Eight, wonderfully immersive stories – the kind you gulp down, sitting up too late at night. What an endlessly inventive writer Daphne Du Maurier was, I already knew she was a great short story writer – from the Don’t Look Now collection, these are every bit as readable.

Welcome to Daphne Du Maurier reading week. I started a few days early so I could review at least one book this week. I hope to review The Breaking Point stories tomorrow.

Today would have been Daphne Du Maurier’s birthday – it is also mine. So, it seems appropriate to have a little giveaway in celebration.

I love any excuse to buy books – I’m sure you all know that, so I have bought two new Du Maurier novels that I have enjoyed very much:

Rebecca (1938) Undoubtedly Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel. The young Mrs De Winter is haunted by the memory of her husband’s first wife – Rebecca. Having met the handsome Mr De Winter while working as a companion in the South of France, the young new wife accompanies him back to his brooding estate of Manderley. It is a long time since I last read Rebecca – I’ve read it twice – and seen the black and white film. A new Netflix film is currently being talked about on social media with Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers. It’s a wonderful novel, and there must be someone out there who hasn’t read it or needs a nice new copy so they can re-read it.

Rule Britannia (1972) Was Daphne Du Maurier’s final novel – and an interesting one for many reasons. It isn’t her best novel – but I found it very readable and there are some wonderful characters, I’m sure I’ll read it again. In it Du Maurier imagines a Britain moving away from Europe, embarking on an alliance with the US which begins to look rather like a takeover bid. Warning; it is pretty anti-American – but it perhaps that in itself is interesting in what it tells is about Du Maurier’s thoughts at this time.

So, if you fancy winning one of these two books, just drop a comment below – letting me which you would like to win. You can tell me what your favourite Du Maurier novel or collection of stories is so far and whether you are you joining with #DDMreadingweek. Open worldwide – I will use a random name generator to pick a winner on Sunday May 19th.

I have created a Daphne Du Maurier reading week page here – you can use it to drop in your links to your book reviews and Goodreads status updates or other comments about what you’re reading.

Have a lovely week reading Daphne Du Maurier reading week everyone.

I have come to love Barbara Comyns so much, and this novel took a little finding, why all of her books aren’t in print is inexplicable to me. There are a couple of her books I shall probably never find. I wish someone would re-issue them all.

Comyns breezy matter of fact style is very much in evidence here. Those who have read her before will recognise the tone immediately. Comyns’ novels all reveal sad childhoods, odd, often horrible domestic arrangements uncaring parents, the absurd and the macabre. Yet Comyns style is unique in writing about them, she’s wry, quirky, shielding us in a way from the true darkness at the root of all her stories.

A Touch of Mistletoe is a coming of age novel which follows the changing fortunes of two sisters from their teenage years to middle age. For me there were echoes of Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, Mr Fox and Sisters by the River, in the story of Vicky and Blanche.

They grow up in a household similar to those other Comyns households. As the novel opens Blanche and Vicky are discussing their grandfather’s funeral. It is their grandfather’s house they are living in, with their handsome brother Edward and their mother – who enlists their help in scrubbing the floors and drinks – they grew up hearing their mother was often ‘poorly’.

“Our mother rather lost interest in us after the thirst got hold of her and, although our grandfather was vaguely fond of us, he certainly wasn’t interested. Edward was sent to a second or perhaps third-rate school recommended by the vicar and Blanche and I had to make do with ever-changing governesses who seemed to know they were doomed as soon as they arrived and hardly bothered to unpack their boxes. The last one was a Miss Baggot, who was old and finding it difficult to get work; although she was frequently in tears, she stayed for nearly a year. Mother finally hit her with a parasol and she left after that.”

The family lawyer Mr Hobbs is reluctant to let Vicky have the small amount of money she has inherited from her grandfather. The sisters have plans, they are ready for life to start – more than ready to leave home, Vicky is eighteen and Blanche sixteen.

Vicky endures a brief period in Amsterdam working for a woman who breeds dogs. It’s a grim experience, and she leaves broke and with a sceptic hand. In London, Blanche joins a mannequin academy – and when Vicky joins her in the capital the two set up home together, taking a room in a run down street. It is in portraying such settings that Comyns excels, the smells of cabbage soup, poverty the sound of their neighbours through the walls. Vicky enrols in a cheap art school taking instruction in life drawing with a roomful of other students. Charcoal dusted fingers, nude models and drawing paper filled with disappointment. Vicky is very at home in this bohemian world.

Life has begun for them both – a life that will take them in different directions. Blanche is horrified by poverty in a way that Vicky isn’t. The sisters are often hungry, they both get boils, Vicky has spent all her money and has to leave the art school. When Blanche gets the chance to work as a companion to an old lady, she jumps at it – even though it means leaving her sister and moving away. Vicky meanwhile gets a job at a commercial studio.

The novel follows the sisters through several marriages, bereavement motherhood, war and middle age. Vicky is drawn to vulnerable, damaged men. Her first husband Eugene is a wonderfully drawn character – an artist, whose attitude to certain cheap goods on show in shop windows is quite funny – but reveals his erratic moods.

“Often he went out of his way to torture himself by looking at things that would upset him – furniture shops and windows filled with plaster little girls lifting up their skirts and gnomes and monks or demons twisted up in agony. These things were frightful but one could always look the other way. Gene would return home quivering with the horrors he had seen as if it had been cruelty to children or animals. I could tell by the way he walked upstairs if things were wrong. Sometimes I thought I must be insensitive that I did not worry enough about ugliness, unemployment and all the things that upset Gene, but life would have been frightful if we both suffered so much.”

Blanche marries a cold, starchy man with money – desperate to escape the poverty she so fears. The sisters’ lives diverge and come back together again over the years. Life isn’t easy for either of the sisters, for a variety of reasons. By the time we leave them, they are firmly middle aged – and the world is a different place to the one we started off in.  

I loved this – you can probably tell. What a wonderfully unique and endlessly readable Barbara Comyns is – if you come across a copy of this one – snap it up.