Posts Tagged ‘Daphne Du Maurier’

First of all I want to say a very big thank you to everyone who took part in #DDMreadingweek in whatever capacity – review, photo, blog comment etc – I thoroughly enjoyed the week. By starting my reading very early, I managed three books too which I was pleased with.

A very brief roundup from me as you can find my event page here containing blog links – which I am still updating, and will continue to do so. Please hop on over and click through to the reviews written by bloggers taking part in the event this year.

I enjoyed some lovely conversations on Twitter and Instagram about Daphne du Maurier and her books – if you want to spot them, follow the hashtag. An English teacher on Twitter read some DDM short stories with her Y10s and shared some of their comments with us – I feel like we have some DDM converts there. Blogger Lisa has been sharing her experience of reading Jamaica Inn after abandoning it twenty years ago – it was such a joy to share her love of it. Some lovely photos of DDM books popped up on Instagram, it’s always lovely to see how much people still love DDM.

Now to the business of a certain giveaway – yesterday afternoon, I drew two random names from the comments on last Monday’s blog post. 

The first prize of the VMC designer edition of Rebecca and matching mug was won by Marina from Finding Time to Write blog.

The second prize of a print of The Birds cover to be supplied by Virago was won by Kate.

Winners have been contacted and address of the second prize winner has been sent to Virago.

I am still catching up with blog posts etc – bear with me, but please let me know if you think I have missed your post.

I think I will probably do this again next year. 😊

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My third and final read for this year’s #DDMreadingweek was The Glassblowers – an incredibly vivid historical novel based on the author’s own family history. Two other readers (at least) have written about this novel this week, and so I don’t feel it necessary to go into too much detail.

Set in eighteenth-century France, this is a novel of a family, their struggles, and tragedies during an extraordinary period in the country’s history. The novel is narrated by Sophie Duval – who now an elderly woman tells the story of the family history to her long-lost nephew, taking him back to the world of the glassblowers and the turbulent, frightening years of The French Revolution.

“Perhaps we shall not see each other again, I will write to you, though, and tell you, as best I can, the story of your family. A glass-blower, remember, breathes life into a vessel, giving it shape and form and sometimes beauty, but he can, with that same breath, shatter and destroy it.”

Sophie’s mother Magdaleine, married into a glass-blowing family in 1747, a world her own father warned her was a closed world, a world totally different to the one she had grown up in. Magdaleine comes to embrace this world, taking up a managing role, as well as raising five children. She is a formidable, respected figure around the glasshouse, a great help and support to Mathurin her husband. The family move between glasshouses, renting houses as their fortunes wax and wane. This is a world with its own ways and traditions and Magdaleine takes them all on as her own.

Three boys are born first, Robert, Michel, and Pierre, later two daughters, Sophie – our narrator – and her younger sister Edmé. The three sons are expected to enter the world of glass-blowing, following their father in the art to become fully fledged master glass blowers. The eldest Robert is the most gifted, he becomes a master glass blower, as does Michel in time. Pierre is less committed to this world – and is apt to take himself away from the glasshouse. Only Robert’s great problem is that he had his head turned by beauty, and a gracious way of living as a young boy. He aspires to wealth and prestige, to grand houses and fine possessions. Robert’s ambitions are set to be his undoing – his speculations costing him more and more each time. Robert is annoyingly optimistic, he never sees what he is doing to his family, he is always convinced of his own success. His wife Cathie and their son Jacques will in time become victims of Robert’s destructive, gambler like attitude.

Sophie tells the story of this family, of her siblings their glassblowers trade and the world in which they live, that becomes changed forever, as does France itself with the revolution. Sophie marries François in 1788, in a double ceremony, her younger sister Edmé marrying at the same time.

“Something within each one of us had been awakened that we had not known was there; some dream, desire, or doubt, flickered into life by that same rumour, took root, and flourished. We were none of us the same afterwards. Robert, Michel, François, Edmé, myself, were changed imperceptibly. The rumour, true or false, had brought into the open hopes and dreads which, hitherto concealed, would now be part of our ordinary living selves.”

The peaceful world of the glassblowers is coming to an end – the country is seething with discontent following a terrible winter, hunger, and poverty the driving force. Rumour and gossip help to fan the flames of revolution. They all hear about the storming of the Bastille in Paris – and it is said that brigands roam the countryside, ready to steal goods and damage property. The whole of France are entering into uncertain times.

 “‘Where do they go, Sophie, those younger selves of ours? How do they vanish and dissolve?” “They don’t,” I said. “They’re with us always, like little shadows, ghosting us through life. I’ve been aware of mine, often enough, wearing a pinafore over my starched frock, chasing Edmé up and down the great staircase in la Pierre.”

While Sophie tries her best to hold the family together, Pierre finds his calling as a notary, Michel and Edmé both great patriots, become revolutionary leaders in their community. Robert continues to speculate – and is declared bankrupt, more than once – and his way out of the mess, is to leave the country, a decision which horrifies his brothers especially.

In telling the story of the French Revolution du Maurier moves her characters around quite a bit – from place to place, house to house – similarly to the way she did in The King’s General. It allows her characters to see and experience more, creating movement and drama in the story.

The descriptions of the fear unleashed at various times over the years of revolution are well done, du Maurier understands, the loss, the rage and patriotic fervour unleashed at such times. There are many incredibly vivid scenes. The historical detail is extraordinary, I learned the other day (via a Twitter conversation), that she spent years researching this – it shows. The one thing I missed rather was a strong sense of place – something I always associate with Daphne du Maurier – I really didn’t get that in this novel. Nevertheless it is a really ambitious novel, in fact so much happens it is difficult to write about. Recommended to those who like a good historical novel with a large strong family at the centre of it.

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My second read for this year’s ~DDMreadingweek was the story collection The Doll, a collection of mainly very early short stories by Daphne du Maurier. These previously lost stories brought back by Virago are very good. No matter how early in her writing life they were penned they show du Maurier’s remarkable talent at the short story form. As Polly Samson writes in her introduction to this edition, many of the themes in these stories were very much du Maurier’s own preoccupations at this time. She had escaped the claustrophobia of her father’s house in London, for Cornwall – her relationship with her parents was complex and often distressing. These are stories of obsession, innocence lost, and human frailties.

The collection opens with The East Wind, set on a small, isolated island, an island rarely come across by sailors. The inhabitants are almost childlike in their innocence – generations of inbreeding have left them a quiet, peaceful people, who get on with their daily lives and think nothing of what might lie beyond their shores. The main occupation is fishing, the sea and the island’s tiny harbour a focal point for the island. One day, the wind changes, and with the storm comes a ship, obliged to weigh anchor in the harbour, the men from the ship come ashore and make themselves known to the island’s population. The sailors bring brandy with them, they also bring lust and sexual desires, never felt before in this little Eden are unleashed leading to violence and death.

The title story The Doll was apparently written when Daphne du Maurier was just twenty. It’s definitely the creepiest story in this collection – it seems surprising that this young woman would have conceived of this story in the 1920s. It makes the reader wonder what was going on in her life around the time. A waterlogged notebook is washed ashore. The notebook tells the story of a jealousy and obsession. The woman at the heart of the story is called Rebecca – that name creating a frisson of recognition where Daphne du Maurier is concerned, but of course she isn’t that Rebecca – that is all in the future. The narrator of the story develops an obsession with Rebecca – who he meets at a party. However, even at their first meeting there is something darker in the narrator’s first thoughts of her.

“Her throat was very long and thin, like a swan’s. I remember thinking how easy it would be to tighten the scarf and strangle her. I imagined her face when dying – her lips parted, and the enquiring look in her eyes – they would show white, but she would not be afraid. All this in the space of a moment, and while she was talking to me. I could drag very little from her. She was a violinist apparently, an orphan and lived alone in Bloomsbury.”

(The Doll)

Yet it is Rebecca’s own obsession that we are most surprised by. A life sized, mechanical doll called Julio. The images that du Maurier leaves us with here are rather disturbing, she creates atmosphere so well though. A story that may give the reader chills, but a fascinating, memorable early piece, nonetheless.

Du Maurier’s subjects vary considerably. In Now to God the Father – a society clergyman, very definitely doesn’t practice what he preaches and a young woman will suffer for it. While in the stories Piccadilly and Mazie – we are witness to the depressing realities of a life of prostitution. In Tame Cat – a young woman travels home, excited to be finally grown up. Now she believes life will begin. She is hurt therefore, and rather bewildered when her mother begins to see her as a rival – and Uncle John, who her school friends had once joked was her mother’s tame cat, is not quite what she thought. It is a rude awakening.

“And the chair was still empty, and the room looked lifeless and dull, and she was a little girl whose mouth turned down at the corners, who bit the ends of her hair, who wriggled with hunched shoulders, sniffing in a hankie, ‘It isn’t fair.”

(Nothing Hurts for Long)

One story I especially liked was Nothing Hurts for Long. A woman awaits the return of her husband after three long months working away. She begins to prepare herself in the morning, excited and happy, her pet canary sings cheerily in its cage. She imagine exactly how her husband’s home coming will be, arranges with her cook what food will be eaten. Then a friend rings up in great distress, and she runs over to console her, only half there, constantly thinking of the evening and her husband’s return. Later she will have cause to remember her friend and her words when her husband’s home coming isn’t as she had envisioned it. He arrives much later, has already eaten. Suddenly there’s a sense of everything being changed.

Du Maurier also shows us several incompatible relationships. In Frustration, a young couple marry in some haste, but then life isn’t as easy as they imagine, and really, they end up no better off than before. In A Difference in Temperament a young couple clearly love one another, yet she can’t bear for him to be away from, starting to imagine all sorts, while he is resentful of her needing him to be always there. We see the beginning of a relationship, that heady, excited middle bit and then its sudden collapse in the story Week-End. Similarly in And His Letters Grew Colder we see all stages of an illicit relationship – through to its bitter end, through the letters of the man. It’s a clever little story, because although we don’t hear from the woman herself, there’s enough context for us to almost hear her between the lines.

There’s a strange dream-like quality to The Happy Valley – in which a woman experiences a recurring feeling of déjà vu. Her recurring dream starts to feel as if it is coming true – and the world around her begins to have an other worldly feel to it. The final story in the collection is The Limpet – originally published in 1959, it is a much later story than the rest. It concerns a woman who blames the ill fortune that she feels has followed her through life – on her habit of always putting others before herself. Of course, as the reader sees immediately she has done no such thing. She is completley unaware however of how manipulative she has always been, and how ultimately she has ruined the lives of several people around her.

As early stories go, these really are good, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. Here du Maurier shows us many flashes of the writer she would become, and all in all it was a pretty good start.

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My first read for this year’s #DDMreadingweek was The Loving Spirit – Daphne du Maurier’s first novel. It’s an impressive debut – revealing her talent for weaving compelling stories together with her love for Cornwall.

The Loving Spirit is the story of a family across a period of about one hundred years. The family are the Coombes a family of boat-builders in Plyn a small coastal town in Cornwall. The boat yards and harbour of Plyn are a hive of activity in the early nineteenth century – it’s a place that du Maurier brings breathtakingly to life, place being so important in her writing.

The novel starts on the day that Janet Coombe marries her cousin Thomas. Janet had grown up with a fierce love of the sea, an untamed spirit that made her long for the kind of sea-faring adventures only reserved for men. She has always longed for the freedom of the sea, and spends many hours gazing out across the sea from the cliffs, dreaming of what it might feel like to sail off to new places, at one with the ocean.

“Now the mist had lifted, and Plyn was no longer a place of shadows. Voices rose from the harbour, the gulls dived in the water, and folk stood at their cottage doors.

Janet stood still on the hilltop and watched the sea, and it seemed that there were two sides of her; one that wanted to be the wife of a man, and to care for him and love him tenderly, and one that asked only to be part of a ship, part of the seas and the sky above, with the glad free ways of a gull.

Then she turned and saw Thomas coming up the hill towards her. She smiled and ran to him.”

Janet knows that can’t be her life, she puts aside her dreams and settles down to marry Thomas, a good kind man, a boat-builder who she loves and looks forward to sharing her life with. They move into an ivy-clad house standing away by itself – here Janet and Thomas raise their family. Thomas makes his living in the Coombe boat yard, a proud craftsman, looking forward to passing on his skills to his sons.

Janet has a deep love for her family, but that restless spirit remains a part of her, a yearning always for the waves. It’s this spirit that will be passed down through her children to her descendants.

“She gave to both Thomas and Samuel her natural spontaneity of feeling and a great simplicity of heart; but the spirit of Janet was free and unfettered, waiting to rise from its self-enforced seclusion to mingle with intangible things, like the wind, the sea, and the skies, hand in hand with the one for whom she waited. Then she, too, would become part of these things forever, abstract and immortal.”

Janet and Thomas have six children four boys and two girls. The eldest, Samuel will follow his father into the boatyard. Mary will stay at home, caring for her parents and later helping to care for the children of her siblings. Joseph is the third child born, a boy who looks like his mother and inherits that wild restless spirit, and yearning for the sea. Joseph’s wildness gets him into trouble time and again as he is growing up, only his mother can really calm him, only she really understands him, theirs is a unique bond. Joseph’s love for his mother is unsurpassed – he carries her with him always. From the time he is a little boy Joseph knows he will be a sailor. Younger brother Herbert will also, in time follow Thomas and Samuel into the Coombe boat yard. The youngest daughter will become a farmer’s wife, her husband a man that will show great friendship to Joseph and his children as the years pass. Philip on the other hand, is entirely different to the rest of the Coombe siblings. Philip has no interest in boatbuilding or sailing, he grows up to be a bitter, resentful man. He becomes clerk to a local shipbroking firm, intent on being a gentleman, he eventually rises to become the head of the company and a wealthy man by Plyn standards. His spite, and jealousy however will have a long and terrible reach.

A ship is built in the Coombe boat yard, built by Thomas and his sons – a ship that will be named the Janet Coombe, a ship which will be skippered by Joseph, taking goods from Cornwall all around the world.

As with so many Daphne du Maurier novels there is a lot that I can’t say for fear of spoiling it for others. What she does so well though, is to create a family, four generations are explored, their hopes, dreams, weaknesses, highs, and lows. The stories of the individual characters weave together across the decades, telling a story of the sea, boat building, family, and Cornwall.

The story follows Joseph, a renowned figure in Plyn, through the years of his tumultuous life. Joseph’s first love is the sea, but he marries twice and has four children.  His eldest son Christopher is the focus of the next generation and his fear for the sea and sea-faring will put him at odds with the father who loves him. The novel ends with Christopher’s daughter Jennifer at the end of the 1920s.

This is a wonderfully immersive novel, an escape that the reader really can’t help but be swept up by.

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Hello and welcome to the fourth #DDMreadingweek. It is that time of year again, which means that later this week, it will be Daphne’s (and my) birthday. That’s on Friday, when Daphne would have been 115 years old, I will be considerably younger.

I won’t be posting everyday – but I hope to get three book reviews up this week. Full disclosure: at the time of writing I have read two books, started the third and am behind on my review writing – so it’s possible review number three might be late. Anyway, I hope that won’t matter too much, as I know there are other DDM fans taking part this week, and I am so looking forward to seeing what everyone reads. As in previous years, there will be a dedicated page here on my blog – where I will be sharing other reader’s links to reviews. A way of finding great recommendations and maybe discovering new blogs to follow.

How to join in

  • You don’t need to be a blogger
  • Read a DDM novel, short story, story collection, or biography.
  • Tell us what you are reading on Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag.
  • Share photos of your DDM read or your DDM books using the hashtag on Twitter or Instagram – (I am a bit rubbish at Instagram, but I keep trying.)
  • Post your thoughts about the book you have read on Goodreads – and share the link to that on my blog or on Twitter – use the hashtag so I don’t miss it.
  • Post comments/links on my blog, or on the blog posts of others.  

Giveaway – UK only, due to postage costs, sorry int’l readers.

I seem to remember I did a giveaway on the first #DDMreadingweek – and haven’t done one since.

There are two prizes – a first prize that I have provided, and a second prize provided very kindly by Virago – which will be sent out by them. I will enter everyone for both prizes – and on Sunday do two random name draws, the first name drawn will win the first prize, the second name drawn will win the second prize.

For the first prize I went shopping, I hope you all don’t mind that I chose the prize myself.

First Prize – VMC designer hardback and matching mug – Rebecca

I decided to offer a special copy of my favourite DDM novel Rebecca and the matching VMC mug. I already had this edition of the book and this mug, so there was no danger of me deciding to keep it for myself. These vmc designer edition hardbacks are delightful, such a pleasure to hold, and read. Every year I am so tempted to reread Rebecca – I loved it so much both times I read it. However, there are still DDM’s I haven’t read for the first time. As for the mugs, I have the full set. So, whether you have never read Rebecca before – or you rather fancy a beautiful new edition of an old favourite I hope I can tempt a few of you with this prize.

Second PrizePoster – with thanks to Virago

Virago are offering a lovely, professionally printed cover image from The Birds – which will make a lovely poster. I can just imagine that striking image in a frame on the wall next to someone’s bookcase. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of the poster to show you, but if you know what that cover looks like you will get the idea.

To enter the draw for either prize – simply pop a comment below telling me how/when you first discovered Daphne du Maurier and why you love her writing.

Winners will be contacted by email or Twitter DM. The First Prize will be sent out by me within two weeks of the draw. The winner of the second prize will have their name and address sent to Virago who will send out the prize, if you’re entering the draw then I assume you are consenting to me sharing those details with Virago should you win.

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It’s that time of year again – well nearly!

Daphne du Maurier reading week is back – which this year will be the week beginning Monday 9th May.

I have loved #DDMreadingweek the last three years, so many people have joined in, discovered, or remembered a love of all things Daphne and shared that with me and each other. I was wondering if I could manage it again this year, my reading and blogging has been pretty slow – but with the help and enthusiasm of Daphne du Maurier readers, I think it will be fine. After all, it’s all about Daphne, not my blog, so I probably won’t be posting on the blog more than two or three times during that week, however, I will be reading Daphne, sharing, and reading everyone’s posts. I am also planning a cheeky little giveaway 😉 as I didn’t do one last year – watch this space.

I share a birthday with Daphne du Maurier, so during the week of our birthdays I like people to read and review Daphne du Maurier books – fiction or nonfiction, share thoughts and pictures on social media – and generally get enthusiastic. You don’t need to have a blog, just join in any way you can. Cake is optional.

For me reading the fiction of DDM ticks so many boxes – and I assume that is why she remains so enduringly loved by readers. Whether you want novels or short stories, mystery, chills or romance, historical escapism, or something a little more contemporary (to her time of course) Daphne has the book for you. If you need any inspiration for what to read – have a look at the event page on my blog for last year’s event – here. Her writing is excellent, her sense of place, and the relationship she has with landscape in many of her books quite extraordinary. Classic, are classics for a reason.

I promise to get myself prepared – so if you follow me on social media and see my reading DDM books weeks before the event – don’t panic – I’m just getting ready. I have more unread Daphne du Maurier books tbr than I can possibly read in one week anyway, so I will have to start early.

I will let you all know what I am reading nearer the time, for now just let me know if you think you would like to join in.

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The Du Mauriers is a biography of Daphne du Maurier’s family, it reads however exactly like a novel, and that was always the intention. It is extraordinary I think that she wrote this book when she was just thirty, and she was already well established as both a biographer and a novelist. In fact, this books reads so much like a novel, the reader has to keep reminding themselves that these people were real – for me that made it all the more fascinating. Daphne du Maurier does this well – breathing life into people removed from us by decades or even centuries and telling their stories faithfully and with credibility.

In a sense it is a companion piece to her biography of her father Gerald: A Portrait (1934) and concerns itself mainly with the two generations that came before Gerald du Maurier. It begins however with Mary Anne Clarke at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as, her fortunes altered she left England for France. Mary Anne Clarke was of course Daphne du Maurier’s great-great grandmother, who was the mistress of the Duke of York in the early nineteenth century. She is the subject of Daphne du Maurier’s 1954 novel Mary Anne, here we meet her in middle and old age, as ribald and outrageous as ever, over painted, over dressed and a constant embarrassment.

The story of The Du Mauriers opens in 1810 – Mary Anne Clarke is packing up her London house; her twelve year old daughter Ellen watches strange men tearing up their home and removing the possessions she has known her whole life. Mary Anne’s reckless spending has brought them to this, soon she and Ellen will be sailing for France, while Ellen’s elder brother George stays at the military school that is paid for by the Duke as part of Mary Anne’s legal settlement.

“And, while her mother laughed and chatted, teasing Lord Folkestone in her own inimitable way, whispering oddities to him behind her hand that made him shout with laughter, the child Ellen sat silent, like a little sallow mouse, watching the play between them with a strange inborn sense of disapproval. If this was how grown-up people spent their time, she had little use for them; for herself she preferred books and music, having a thirst for knowledge of all kinds that her mother declared to be positively wearisome in a child not yet thirteen.

Poor Ellen – as the result of a joke by one of her mother’s friends – believes herself to be the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of York – a belief that she carries through her life. Mary Anne and Ellen set sail for France – which is really where the story of the du Maurier family begins.

A few years later Ellen meets Louise Busson du Maurier a young English teacher at La Maison d’Education. Ellen comes to the school to take a short course in French literature. Despite the obvious differences in their experiences the two become friends, though it isn’t until sometime later that Ellen meets Louise’s brother, Louis-Mathurin who will be her future husband – a music loving, inventor with no common sense, a dreamer who borrows money with no hope of paying it back. Louis-Mathurin is an atheist, something that shocks his Catholic sister considerably, so though is Ellen and the two find they have a shared love of music too.  

“No one can ever be too old for prayer,’ said Louise gently. Ellen shrugged her shoulders again. ‘You don’t understand,’ she said. ‘Why should you? Faith in an Almighty came naturally to you. You sucked it in with your first milk, in the cradle. I breathed rather different germs; a little malice, a little flattery, a little deception—those were the qualities that came to me. No one ever told me about God. The word was used as an oath before me and that was all. The only religion I have ever learnt was to take care of myself.”

Louise also married, though her marriage was embarrassingly short. Her husband turning out to have mistaken Louise for a great heiress, and on finding out the truth runs out on her on their wedding night. A story that the scandal loving Mary Anne cackles over with cruel glee. Louise became a governess to the children of a former pupil who married into Portuguese aristocracy. Ellen is around thirty when she marries – yet surprises herself by having three children, George ‘Kicky,’ Eugéne ‘Gyggy’ and Isabella. Louise becomes the very fond godmother of Gyggy – the son Ellen has little feeling for.

We continue to follow the fortunes of Ellen and Louis-Mathurin and their children as they move back and forth between Paris, London, Brussels and Boulogne. Kicky his mother’s favourite, finding an early talent for caricature though his father wants him to study science, Isabella her painted grandmother’s darling with her pretty face and golden hair. At this point, Mary Anne is well into her seventies – she has published her memoirs in France – much to Ellen’s disgust, she still delights in the stories of her youth, the cheeky little asides, the non-too subtle references to her great success as a young woman.

“At twenty-six she had held her little world between her ruthless, exquisite fingers, and here was her grandson, at the same age, launching himself into the problematical future, in which he was to win fame by satirising the same society she had led by the ears at the beginning of the century.”

Of course, George ‘Kicky’ du Maurier does go on to be a famous cartoonist – working for Punch magazine – his targets the Victorian middle classes in particular. Later he went on to write a couple of novels – the best known of those is Trilby. We follow the story of his marriage, his career as a cartoonist and his loss of sight – such a tragedy for an artist.

The Du Mauriers is an absolutely fabulous read, what a family and what stories du Maurier draws from them. All families have their stories at the heart of them, and perhaps this family had more than most.

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On this day May 13th in 1907, Daphne du Maurier was born in London, the middle daughter of the actor-manager Gerald du Maurier, grand-daughter of the Punch cartoonist George du Maurier. So, today is her birthday, and mine!

They are a fascinating family, and my review of her novelistic biography The Du Mauriers is scheduled for tomorrow.

In the meantime, and because I have been only able to read two books this year, I want to take a quick look back at some favourites. Personal favourites aren’t always the same as the most critically acclaimed – our reaction to books is so personal it can’t always be fully explained. It’s a feeling sometimes isn’t it?

So here, are my top five du Maurier books to date – I may need to update this as I read more of her books. So far I have read eleven novels, three collections of short stories and a biography by her. She is very underrated as a writer I feel – something I think her fans already know.

Rebecca was my first experience of Daphne du Maurier – I read it in my teens and later saw that classic Hitchcock film. I re-read it in 2006 and was sorely tempted to read it again this year but didn’t get the chance. From its spine tingling opening first line the reader is enthralled – some books are classics for a reason. Not a novel that needs much introduction – it is psychologically pitch perfect, full of gothic suspense – truly impossible to put down.

The only other du Maurier novel I have read twice is Jamaica Inn here again I was captivated in my teens by the brooding, melodrama, the romance of Cornish smugglers. I re-read it 2013 – and realised what had drawn me to it in my teens – the desolate moorland, those desperate men – it just the kind of thing you love at that age. When I re-read it, I realised how well du Maurier had portrayed those desperate men, how actually she in no way romanticised them in this novel – yet it is that very dark and brooding atmosphere that makes it so compelling. It was another of du Maurier’s novels that Hitchcock went on to adapt for film.

Daphne du Maurier was an excellent short story writer. Hitchcock adapted one of them – he must have been quite the fan. The Don’t Look Now collection was the first collection of du Maurier short stories that I had read – and the quality of the stories absolutely blew me away. This is a collection of five, long, short stories – stories of a really satisfying length that the reader can really get their teeth into. Many of her stories across the three collections I have read are really very dark – but I rather love that. This collection is truly excellent.

I don’t usually go for novels where the reader must suspend their disbelief – and yet with du Maurier I absolutely can and enjoy doing so. The House on the Strand utterly enthralled me from the first page – it made my books of the year list two years ago – and I have recommended it to all sorts of people since. Her evocation of the landscape here is just beautiful, 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. In this time-travel novel – time travel du Maurier style – she celebrates the landscape she so loved in its past incarnation and the present. It is immensely compelling – so brilliantly imagined I got totally sucked into the world of this novel.

When preparing this post, I came up with the first four books on my list easily enough, but there were three books tied for that fifth spot. I have opted to talk about The Flight of the Falcon – one of the books I read last year. Something of a slow burn of a novel I felt – and yet it is really an excellent novel – with a stunning sense of place. It has a very filmic quality with its Italian setting; it has a very sixties feel to it. It is less melodramatic than many of her novels, though there are plenty of simmering resentments, petty jealousies and family secrets played out in a town steeped in history. The more I thought about this novel after I finished it, the more I liked it, I actually think it is quite brilliant.

So those are my top five du Maurier books – though it is quite hard to choose. So, now of course I want to know yours!

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My first read for this year’s #DDMreadingweek was The King’s General – an historical novel set in seventeenth century Cornwall at the time of the English Civil War. Proving yet again her versatility du Maurier combines, history, romance, tension, with a poignancy for ageing and the dispossessed. All the main players in this novel are people who once lived – I assume relatively little is known about most of them though – enabling du Maurier to weave her story around them, a story not lacking in credibility. Much of the novel takes place in the house of Menabilly, a house Daphne du Maurier had been fascinated by for many years. She spent a lot of time researching the house and its original owners – who themselves appear in the novel – and a story of the discovery that was made during renovation work in the 1820s fuelled her imagination.

As in several other du Maurier novels her depiction of Cornwall, its landscape, its houses and its people is vivid and strangely timeless. The essence of that landscape, the shape of the land and its coast will have changed little in the long years since.

The novel opens with Honor Harris in 1653, she is thirty eight – looking back at the past recalling her youth and later the war that came to Cornwall. There is a feeling of melancholy in this opening as Honor talks about the last of summer and the approaching chill of autumn.

“It is a strange, joyous feeling, this streak back to the past. Nothing is regretted, and I am happy and proud. The mist and cloud have gone, and the sun, high now and full of warmth, holds revel with my ebb-tide. How blue and hard is the sea as it curls westward from the bay, and the Blackhead, darkly purple, leans to the deep water like a sloping shoulder. Once again – and this I know is fancy – it seems to me that the tide ebbs away in the middle of the day, when hope is highest and my mood is still. Then, half-consciously I become aware of a shadow, of a sudden droop of the spirit. The first clouds of evening are gathering beyond the Dodman. They cast long fingers on the sea. And the surge of the sea, once far-off and faint, comes louder now, creeping towards the sands. The tide has turned.”

Honor Harris grew up the youngest daughter of the Harris family at Lanrest, when she was ten her older brother Kit married the beautiful Gartred Grenvile. The Grenviles being one of the principle families in Cornwall. The marriage is a short one, Kit leaving Gartred a young widow a few years later. Honor has no love for her sister-in-law from the first, but as the years pass the two women will find themselves thrown together more than once in difficult circumstances.

On her eighteenth birthday, Honor Harris meets Gartred’s brother Sir Richard Grenvile – a man of whom she has already heard stories.  He is a captivating, reckless presence – and Honor, beautiful and possessed of a sharp wit intrigues him immediately. The Harris family do not approve, but Honor and Richard ensure that their intended marriage is accepted by everyone. However, just days before the wedding a terrible accident puts a stop to everything and Honor reconciles herself to a single life and puts all thoughts of Richard firmly behind her.

Fifteen years later, the Civil War has brought great danger and uncertainty to Cornwall. Honor, still carrying the disability she acquired fifteen years earlier, is advised by her brother Robin to leave Lanrest and take shelter with her sister Mary (married to Jonathan Rashford) at Menabilly. Honor and her faithful servant Matty travel to Menabilly where they find a house fairly packed with various relatives all seeking refuge from the war. Honor is given a pleasant chamber in the belfry – where she is soon to make an astonishing and important discovery – and from where she can watch the comings and goings of the household in the courtyard below.

“Time heals all wounds, say the complacent, but I think it is not so much time that does it as determination of the spirit. And the spirit can often turn to devil in the darkness.”

It is here at Menabilly that Honor meets Richard again, now he is a much talked about general serving King Charles I. Despite all that happened, Richard and Honor are drawn back to one another – it quickly becomes clear that Richard favours Honor above almost everyone else. In the intervening years he married unhappily, which ended in divorce and has a son and daughter, his son Dick – still a young lad bitterly resentful of his father.

Over the next several years as War tears Cornwall and Cornish families apart – Honor finds herself having to find the most extraordinary reserves of courage as more than once she fights to save the lives of her beloved Richard and others as they try to defend their country and all they believe in. She must watch as Parliamentarian soldiers tear Menabilly apart – knowing her own home of Lanrest has suffered the same fate. War brings danger, violence, instability and loss and in this novel du Maurier again pitches the tension just perfectly.

“There was only the sound of the ripping wood, the breaking of the furniture, the hacking to pieces of the great dining table and the grunts of the men as they lifted their axes. The first thing that was thrown down to us across the hall, torn and split was the portrait of the King, and even the muddied heel that had been ground upon his features, and the great crack across the mouth, had not distorted those melancholy eyes that stared up at us without complaint from the wrecked canvas.”

There’s nothing quite like a suspenseful historical novel for escapism, and this one had all the ingredients necessary for a proper escapist read. du Maurier’s writing though goes far beyond the mere escapist, her description of place and the sense of time passing and ageing is really beautifully done.

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Hello, and welcome to another #DDMreadingweek – I am really excited to spend another week thinking and talking about Daphne du Maurier with whom I share a birthday – this coming Thursday.

A friend recently asked me if I had read all the Daphne du Maurier books already – and the answer is absolutely not. I have read Rebecca and Jamaica Inn twice, nine other novels once and three of her story collections. So, I have a few books to go – enough for next year and the year after at the very least I should think.

This year I have chosen to read The King’s General – an historical novel set during the English Civil War and The du Mauriers a novel like biography of the du Maurier family – which at the time of writing I am thoroughly enjoying. I bought a copy of The Loving Spirit too, but now I realise I probably won’t get time to read it – and if I do I certainly won’t finish it until the middle of next week.

As ever I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else reads. I have a little less time now that I am back at work – so I would appreciate people using the hashtag #DDMreadingweek on Twitter – so I don’t miss your photos and blog links. I endeavour to read all the blog posts that come in – and comment where I can – please prod me if you think I have missed something, I genuinely love seeing all your posts.

If you would like to join in with #DDMreadingweek but don’t have time to read a whole book or don’t blog there are still plenty of ways to join in.

  • Share some photos of your Daphne du Maurier book collection on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag.
  • Listen to the brilliant Backlisted podcast about The Breaking Point
  • Watch the BBC documentary with Daphne at home at Kilmarth – first shown in 1971. It is on BBC iPlayer for those of you in the UK.
  • Watch one of the Rebecca films – I have yet to watch the Netflix adaptation – I have fears I won’t like it.
  • Watch the film of My Cousin Rachel – another I haven’t seen yet.
  • Read one short story.
  • Read the blog posts that will be popping up over the next week or so – and get inspired for later in the year or even next #DDMreading week.

I am hoping to take some of my own advice there, as this year I simply won’t have time to read and review as much as I did this time last year. I have my review of The King’s General scheduled for tomorrow – and I am planning to review The Du Mauriers toward the end of the week. I am also planning to look back at some favourite Daphne du Maurier reading later this week. I have now deleted last year’s DDM reading week page – and have set up a new one. So, here is where you can drop links to your posts – or let me know about what you are reading (or watching), or of course you can comment on any of my DDM posts that come out during the week.

So, happy reading everyone!

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