Posts Tagged ‘Daphne Du Maurier’

Popping up with this review much later in the week than I had initially intended – but that’s just the way things go sometimes.

“I could not ask for forgiveness for something I had not done. As scapegoat, I could only bear the fault.”

The Scapegoat was my fourth read for last week’s #DDMreadingweek. I had seen a lot of very favourable talk about it, so I felt I had to read it as soon as it arrived. I’m so glad I did, it’s a fantastic read.

Our narrator; John is an Englishman who has studied and lectured in French history for years, he speaks the language so well he can pass for French easily. The Comte Jean de Gué is a Frenchman, who like John is dissatisfied and frustrated with the life he has been living.

“My realisation that all I had ever done in life, not only in France but in England also, was to watch people, never to partake in their happiness or pain, brought such a sense of overwhelming depression, deepened by the rain stinging the windows of the car, that when I came to Le Mans, although I had not intended to stop there and lunch, I changed my mind, hoping to change my mood.”

The two men meet in a provincial French railway station – both of them completely stunned that they appear to be completely identical. This is perhaps the one place where we need to suspend our disbelief a little. We have all met identical twins I’m sure – and while there can be a moment of confusion – they are different people entirely and it wouldn’t take more than a moment or two for any confusion to be resolved. So, the idea that two men, with no familial connection could swap identities with no one suspecting is far-fetched – but if you just accept it then the novel becomes wonderfully compelling and fully immersive.

Having met by chance the two men spend the evening talking and drinking. They each tell the other a bit about their lives – John has no family, few friends, his work has been his life. Jean is worn down by his family and responsibilities. Ending up at a hotel where the Comte has taken a room, John falls into a drunken stupor, waking the next morning to find everything changed. His companion of the evening before has disappeared – taking everything belonging to John with him, passport, papers, keys, car all gone and with them his very identity. When the Comte’s chauffeur turns up to collect his employer – he assumes John’s protestations to be the ravings of a man who has seriously over done it.

Feeling like he has no option, John assumes the identity of The Comte Jean de Gué, travelling back to Jean’s family home; a château near the village of St Gilles. Here he is thrust into a family and business situation of which he has no knowledge. It takes all his skill and intelligence to figure out who is who and what is what.

“One had no right to play about with people’s lives. One should not interfere with their emotions. A word, a look, a smile, a frown, did something to another human being, waking response or aversion, and a web was woven which had no beginning and no end, spreading outward and inward too, merging, entangling, so that the struggle of one depended upon the struggle of the other.”

At the château he is met with a large family – a man, three younger women, an older matriarch, a ten year old girl and several servants. One immediate challenge to find his way to the Comte’s room and the luggage the chauffer just took away without anyone realising he doesn’t know where it is. What is his relationship to all these people supposed to be, and what is the family business that is clearly a source of tension? Which of the women is his wife? And why is there such bad blood between Jean and one of the other women? Bit by bit John manages to find out who everyone is – but his difficulties are far from over. When asked if he managed to secure the contract in Paris, John recklessly says he did – to the amazement of everyone who clearly thought it an impossible task. He then sets out to cover up his blunder and secure a new contract himself, understanding nothing about the financial constraints the company is under.

The family is not a happy one, the past is everywhere – something that happened at the end of the war is still having an effect. No one it seems finds anything in the imposter Jean’s behaviour to alert them to the truth, in fact the only inhabitants of the château who sense that something is wrong are the dogs – who quite sensibly growl whenever he approaches. Animals always know.

“I dragged myself to my feet, and with my hellhound in tow started off once more through the fastness of the wood, feeling, as the poet did before me, that my companion would be with me through the nights and through the days and down the arches of the years, and I should never be rid of him.”

It’s not too long before John realises that Jean is a much harder, more ruthless man than himself – and with that comes the knowledge that in his escape Jean has left John to be the scapegoat for all the mistakes of the past. John makes mistakes too, as he attempts to find his way with a family he starts to care about in a way he could never have predicted. However, where can this all possibly lead?

Although there is some tension and drama in this novel it is far more a novel of the psychology of taking on the identity of another. Du Maurier beautifully explores the psychology and motivations of both men and the subtle differences between them. A beautifully written novel, du Maurier’s sense of place is as strong as ever, characters step fully formed from the pages. More than that, The Scapegoat is just a damn good read – and I sat up far too late the other night finishing it.

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As another #DDMreadingweek draws to a close, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has been joining in and showing enthusiasm for Daphne du Maurier during the week of her (and my) birthday.

It as been so nice to connect with other readers and bloggers and share reviews and thoughts on some great books. Not everyone has agreed absolutely on those books – but isn’t that part of the fun, and part of what makes blogging and reading events so interesting?

I began my reading early – being host I wanted to be properly organised and in the du Maurier zone – and had planned on reading three books. As I write I am into the final third of my fourth book, Daphne really is very readable, and I haven’t at all minded reading four in a row. I began with The Birds and other stories, stories that are quite unsettling in nature – one story ending with a very clever twist – in these stories DDM shows her talent for exploring place and character within the short form. The title story is of course just brilliant – and simply unforgettable. I then moved on to The Flight of the Falcon, an Italian set novel with a male narrator, it shows yet another side to Du Maurier’s writing – a modern setting with some drama and tension and a tremendous sense of place. I then read The Parasites, an autobiographical novel about theatrical siblings who grew up in the shadow of their famous parents. A different kind of narrative again and looking back at other works of Daphne du Maurier I have read previously, I began to appreciate just how diverse her storytelling ability is. On my birthday (Wednesday) I was finishing The Parasites, and I had a pile of gifts to open from friends and family. One of my gifts was a copy of The Scapegoat – which I had heard such good thigs about, I decided I might as well read it straight away. So, I started it late on Wednesday night, and I can confirm it is really excellent. It shall be reviewed in due course.

Speaking of reviews – apologies to readers who are sick of DDM, normal service will be resumed – I still have one book from my April reading pile to review. One of these days I will get back on track.

If you haven’t had chance yet – please have a look at the page I set up for #DDMreadingweek 2020 – there you will find lots of links to other people’s blog posts – some fantastic pieces – which are already inspiring my choices for future reading. There are still several Daphne du Maurier books I have to read – as well as biographies, so I can’t think of a reason not to do this again next year. Don’t worry if you haven’t reviewed anything yet but intend to do so – I shall carry on adding links as they come in.

I was reminded recently of a Backlisted podcast episode about Daphne du Maurier, its mostly about The Breaking Point story collection. I really recommend it. Also, if you have yet to discover it there are lots of wonderful reviews and articles on the Daphne du Maurier website.

Whether you have been reading Daphne du Maurier or following along from the side lines I hope you enjoyed indulging in all things Daphne – I know I did.

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My third read for #DDMreadingweek was Daphne du Maurier’s 1949 novel The Parasites which is considered to be fairly autobiographical. Again, it is quite different to the other two books of hers I have just read, and different again to those I read last year. My reading has inadvertently led me to explore different sides of the writing of Daphne du Maurier and I have found I like it all. I like the chilling, unsettling nature of her shorter fiction, the historical novels like The House on the Strand, the gothic drama of Rebecca, and the slower paced novels with a strong sense of place like The Flight of the Falcon. In a way The Parasites is like none of those. It is a less dramatic work, and yet there are small moments of drama – as this is the story of a family, and there is some drama in every family. This family though, like du Maurier’s own, is a theatrical family.

“Once a person gave his talent to the world, the world put a stamp upon it. The talent was not a personal possession anymore. It was something to be traded, bought and sold. It fetched a high price, or a low one. It was kicked in the common market.”

The Delaneys; Maria, Niall and Celia grew up in the shadow of their famous parents. Pappy: their father, a singer, a character loved by audiences who is larger than life and Mama a dancer. Brought up together from the earliest childhood, the three are not full siblings. Maria Pappy’s child from a previous liaison, Niall Mama’s son from her previous relationship. Celia the youngest is the child they had together. Niall and Maria despite having no blood tie have always had a strong bond, an understanding existing between them that left everyone else out. Celia feels her connection to the other two strongly, but she is always just a little on the outside. 

The novel opens when the three siblings are grown up, they are all clearly in their thirties, Maria is a mother, married to Charles Wyndham. A typical lazy Sunday afternoon with Maria, Niall and Celia together for the weekend, at Farthings, the Wyndham family home. The children are out of sight – cared for by their nanny Polly – the adults chatter idly as they lounge around. Maria is an actress, Niall a song writer, while Celia’s own ambitions of writing and illustrating stories, is always being put on hold as she rushes to lend whatever support her family needs. Suddenly, Charles explodes into irritated anger, calling the three of them parasites – shocking them into silence and then reminiscence.

‘And that’s what you are, the three of you. Parasites. The whole bunch. You always have been and you always will be. Nothing can change you. You are doubly, triply parasitic: first, because you traded ever since childhood on that seed of talent you had the luck to inherit from your fantastic forebears: secondly, because you’ve none of you done a stroke of ordinary honest work in your lives, but batten upon us, the fool public who allow you to exist; and thirdly, because you prey upon each other, the three of you, living in a world of fantasy which you have created for yourselves and which bears no relation to anything in heaven or on earth.’

The narrator is interesting, each of the three siblings are spoken about in the third person, by a collective we. Cleverly, du Maurier never lets this narrative voice intrude too much – and it certainly helps to portray the Delaneys as a unit.  

We return to the Delaneys in childhood – a childhood that included late nights at the theatre with their parents, piling into European hotels showering the reception area with bag and baggage and even pets. Their childhood unconventional and rackety – their education rather erratic. The faithful Truda is always with them – the entire family rely on her sensible no nonsense management. The children are always together – they are of similar ages and have no need of other children. They enjoy vicariously the adulation bestowed upon their parents – as they too worship the wonderful Delaneys from the wings. As the children are just entering their teenage years, a tragedy brings the life they have all known thus far to an abrupt stop.

“Grown-up people. … How suddenly would it happen, the final plunge into their world? Did it really come about overnight, as Pappy said, between sleeping and waking? A day would come, a day like any other day, and looking over your shoulder you would see the shadow of the child that was, receding; and there would be no going back, no possibility of recapturing the shadow. You had to go on; you had to step forward into the future, however much you dreaded the thought, however much you were afraid.”

Maria goes on to the stage, selfish and too used to the attention of others, attention she still craves. Niall – never very confident of his own abilities, is lazy and unambitious, at eighteen he begins a relationship with Freada a woman who was once a friend of his mother’s. Celia never achieves what she might have been able to because she spends too much time looking after others. She is quite needy and revels in the company of Maria and Niall, though her kindness to her family is at some sacrifice to herself. Maria marries Charles as she rather likes the idea of being an honourable. Neither of the other two marry – Maria spends the week in London at the theatre, her children and their father remain in the country – each week, all three of the adult Delaney siblings arrive at the family home for the weekend. In a sense the three of them never really grew up, they are each quite flawed – connected strongly by their shared childhood which was so much removed from anyone outside of the Delaney bubble.  

The Parasites is a great exploration of character and the strong ties that connect an unconventional family to one another. It’s certainly different to other du Maurier books but I enjoyed it very much, a well written psychological exploration that is actually rather compelling.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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The second book I chose to read for #DDMreadingweek was The Flight of the Falcon. I picked up this pretty 1960s hardback somewhere last year quite cheaply. It differs from some of Daphne du Maurier’s most famous works in some ways, while there is certainly tension and drama especially towards the end, we don’t have the unsettling atmosphere of novels like Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, not the strange almost supernatural elements of The House on the Strand. Set in the present day (i.e. the 1960s) history still plays a part but it is kept in the past – we are not plunged into an historical world here.

I found it to be instantly a very visual novel – it really would make an excellent TV/film adaptation. The setting is so much a part of this novel, and as I have said before Daphne du Maurier’s sense of place is always exceptional.

This is one of the novels that feature a male narrator – something du Maurier manages well I think – there are several male narrators in her short stories. Armino Fabbio is a courier and tour guide working for a holiday tour company catering for both European and American tourists. His life is unremarkable perhaps, but he is content, considers himself good at his job. As the novel opens Armino arrives in Rome with a group of British and American tourists, they put up at a hotel already known to Armino – from where their tour will continue in a few days. Some members of his party draw Armino’s attention to the figure of an old woman slumped in the doorway of a church, and in a moment of compassion Armino returns alone later and presses a large value note into her hand.

“The furtive odour of stale wine, worn clothes, rose to my nostrils. I fumbled for the hidden hand under the enveloping shawls and put the note into it. Suddenly she stirred. She lifted her head. The features were aquiline and proud, the eyes, once large, were now sunken, and the straggling grey hair fell in strands to her shoulders. She must have travelled from some distance, for she had two baskets beside her containing bread and wine, and yet a further woollen shawl. Once again I was seized with that sense of recognition, that link with the past which could not be explained. Even the hand that, warm despite the cold air, held on to mine in gratitude awakened an involuntary, reluctant response. She stared at me. Her lips moved.”

The woman reminds him strongly of Marta his old nurse from childhood – later back at the hotel he imagines he even heard her calling after him. The following day the old woman is found dead – murdered in the same spot, a small piece of the money Armino gave her still in her hand. He accompanies two English women to the police station to identify the woman as someone they saw the day before, however Armino says nothing about the money he gave her or that he may have recognised her as someone he once knew. With an increasing suspicion that the old woman might really have been his old nurse Marta, Armino ditches his tour – leaving them in the hands of another courier – and decides to return to his home town of Ruffano where he hasn’t been for over twenty years – having left the town with his mother when he was a boy.

Ruffano is a town steeped in history, five hundred years earlier the sinister Duke Claudio preyed upon the people of the town, his life and times documented in the archives of the university library. When Armino arrives in Ruffano he quickly finds lodgings and a temporary job at the library – coming into contact with the students who fill the old university town. Within days Armino has been drawn into the complex world of the university, meeting many of its key figures, including the wife of the University Rector who lives in his former family home.

Incredibly, Armino discovers the elder brother; Aldo he thought had been killed in the war, alive a respected member of the university community and Director of the arts council. His brother who is several years older than Armino was always a huge presence in the young Armino’s life and now he is instantly charmed and enthralled by his charismatic brother, however he wonders at the hold Aldo has over large numbers of the arts students. Before reconnecting with his brother, who he still believes to be dead, Armino watches in astonishment as he addresses a large body of students in the ducal apartments.

“‘Five hundred and twenty five years have passed and I believe the time has come to reinstate the Duke. Or rather, to do honour to his memory. That is why, since it has fallen to me, in the absence of the Rector of the university, Professor Butali, whom we all revere and honour, to arrange this year’s festival, I have decided to enact the uprising of the city of Ruffano against their much misunderstood lord and master, first duke, and called by all- the Falcon.’”

Each year the town holds a Festival that celebrates some aspect of its past – this year Aldo wishes to honour the memory of the Duke he considers having been misunderstood – a man he claims was dedicated to the arts himself. The arts faculty students are in regular conflict with the Commerce and Economics students – a new faculty. There is tension and even violence on the streets late at night – and the planned re-enactment of the Duke’s flight from Ruffano is doing nothing to ease simmering resentments.

As Armino reconnects with his brother and learns more about the town and the university – he becomes increasingly haunted by his own past, and that of his brother. Worried that his hasty flight from Rome could make him look like a murderer – he turns to his brother for help. Though as his first week back in the town of his birth comes to an end, Armino is beginning to wonder about whether or not all is well with his brother.

In some ways this novel could be said to be a bit of a slow burn, but I must say I really enjoyed it. The simmering resentments, jealousies and fragile allegiances of the town’s university are portrayed well, and the heart of it is a mystery about an old woman’s death – and a brother’s obsession.

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Today is the first day of #DDMreadingweek, for those of you joining in I have started a new page for this year’s reading event, and I will be updating it over the week with links to other reviews and posts. You can find it here.

Like last year, I decided to start with a collection of stories. The Birds and other stories is probably best known for its title story, which was adapted for film, by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. It is the opening story in the collection, and it captivates immediately. There are six long short stories in the collection, each of them fully immersive and of a satisfying length. Du Maurier’s settings are varied, her sense of place so good that her stories – whether full length novel or short story – are immediately visual. In these stories, we find ourselves on the English coast, in a remote European mountain village, a sun soaked holiday resort for the wealthy and a rural English landscape.

In The Birds human beings come suddenly and unexpectedly under attack, when the wind changes on December 3rd and birds of every kind take to the skies. In their thousands the birds acting against their normal instincts, turn on the human population. We see the unfolding horror through the eyes of Nat Hocken, a husband and father living near on the coast. To begin with Nat merely thinks the changes to the weather have somehow affected the birds in some strange way, he has no sense that civilisation could be in any way threatened. Birds of all kinds and sizes flock together, sparrows, finches, and gulls fill the skies, then they break into the house at night, filling the children’s bedroom attacking, terrifying. Similar reports begin coming in from across the country – the radio goes off air – Nat struggles to protect his family. It is a brilliant, chilling story – and in an age when we are concerned with things like climate change and its affect on animal species, there is something quite salutary about it.

“…as the slow sea sucked at the shore and then withdrew, leaving the strip of seaweed bare and the shingle churned, the sea birds raced and ran upon the beaches. Then that same impulse to flight seized upon them too. Crying, whistling, calling, they skimmed the placid sea and left the shore. Make haste, make speed, hurry and begone; yet where, and to what purpose? The restless urge of autumn, unsatisfying, sad, had put a spell upon them and they must flock, and wheel, and cry; they must spill themselves of motion before winter came.”

Monte Verita is a story that takes place over a number of years. It is the longest story in the collection, and it drags a little, things get increasingly odd as the narrative progresses, I found it oddly compelling nevertheless, and it is certainly memorable. Here we have another male narrator; a man who in his younger days with his good friend Victor enjoyed mountain climbing all over Europe. When Victor marries Anna, the three are frequently together. Anna declares her desire to join her husband on the mountains, but it is the mountain paradise of Monte Verita that seems to be calling her. A place that promises immortality – it comes at a terrible price.

Du Maurier’sdark irony is in evidence in The Apple Tree. The narrator is a man recently widowed. Flashbacks to his marriage show his wife to have been an unhappy, grumbling woman, martyring herself to the housework. However, how reliable this narrator is we can’t really know. Following his wife’s death, the man revels in his new freedom, not mourning his wife at all – he even remembers with some nostalgia the pretty land girl he once kissed some years earlier. One thing spoils his new happiness, the apple tree in his garden long thought to be barren begins to show signs of new life. When the tree starts to produce apples, the fruit taste fine to everyone but the widower for whom it tastes disgusting. The man starts to hate the tree with an all consuming bitterness, he sees it overshadowing the smaller, younger prettier trees next to it, stealing the very life from them. It’s as if it is possessed of an angry or malign spirit.

“The moon shone full upon the little apple tree, the young one. There was a radiance about it in this light that gave it a fairy-tale quality. Small and lithe and slim, the young tree might have been a dancer arms upheld, poised ready on her toes for flight. Such a careless, happy grace about it. Brave young tree. Away to the left stood the other one, half of it in shadow still. Even the moonlight could not give it beauty. What in heaven’s name was the matter with the thing that it had to stand there, humped and stooping, instead of looking upwards to the light? It marred the still quiet night, it spoilt the setting.”

The Little Photographer concerns a beautiful, lonely marquise on holiday with her two children and their governess. Her husband has remained at home to attend to business. She is bored and restless, many of her friends have had passing liaisons which they tell her about and make sound so exciting. On a visit to the village she meets a young photographer and hires him to take photos of her and the children. They start meeting up in the hot afternoons, while everyone else rests, however soon he starting to get too attached – speaking of following her home. The Marquise is desperate to save herself and her marriage, realising too late how foolish she has been.

In Kiss me again, stranger a young mechanic meets the girl of his dreams at the cinema.  She is an enigmatic beauty, and the reader senses right away something is going on that we don’t yet understand. This isn’t a ghost story, yet there is something slightly spooky about the story – especially when the girl takes the young man into a graveyard on a late evening walk.

I really can’t say too much about the final story; The Old Man, without giving away important spoilers. It has the most brilliant twist though. Our narrator has been watching a family down by the river, he assigns each member a name, the patriarch is the old man. Silently, he watches the turbulent relationships between the family develop over time. I shall say no more.

This fascinating, compelling set of stories really got my Daphne du Maurier reading off to a great start.

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Last year I decided to have a little reading week event for Daphne du Maurier an eternally popular writer whose birthday I share. It seemed fitting to hold it the week of our birthday, and I was delighted with just how many people joined in. So with April into its second week I thought I better remind you all that as we had so much fun last year, we’re going to do it all again, well I say we – I hope some of you will be joining me.

I have kept the page up sharing reviews from last year – but I will be taking off last year’s links to make way for this year nearer the time – so if you are looking for inspiration, and want to see what everyone was reading last year I would do it now.

Last year I read:

The Breaking Point stories

The House on the Strand

Mary Anne

They were each fantastic reading experiences (in fact my week was closer to a fortnight) I got quite carried away. This year? Well I have The Parasites, The Birds and other stories, The Flight of the Falcon, and Daphne’s Letters from Menabilly which was a birthday gift last year, and I could easily have acquired more by the time May 11th rolls around. There’s also a part of me that would love to read Rebecca again, despite there being a good number of Daphne du Maurier books I haven’t read. As ever I will see where my mood takes me.

If you aren’t a blogger, that really doesn’t matter – join in the conversation using the hashtag #DDMreadingweek on Twitter and Instagram, read some Daphne du Maurier books, share photos of your books or just let me know what you have read and how you got on in the comments section on my blog. If you are a blogger – please let your readers know you’ll be joining in – and alert me to any reviews of Daphne du Maurier books during the week of 11th – 17th May (or after, I know reviews take a while to come in). Most of all celebrate the life and work of a wonderful writer, who I feel is sometimes dismissed rather as a women’s writer or a romance writer. She is so much more than that, fantastic at depicting atmosphere some of her work has some quite dark overtones, touching on the paranormal in places. An extraordinary storyteller, some of her characters; Mrs Danvers, Mary Yellan, Rachel – are quite unforgettable. So, if you have never read her before, now could be your time.

I understand that many people are finding their reading mood to be pretty fickle at the moment – I am finding that myself – so I understand that perhaps not everyone will want to commit to a reading event at the moment. Still, if you find yourself able to share some du Maurier love – whether it’s a photo or a retweet – then that counts too.

If you think you will be reading along with me the week of 11th -17th May I would love to hear from you, especially if you already know what you will be reading.

I’m looking forward to it already.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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