Posts Tagged ‘Daphne Du Maurier’

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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

To be absolutely honest I wasn’t sure if I was doing this again this year – but late last night I thought, oh why not? The last couple of years I have hosted Daphne du Maurier reading week – on the week of her and my birthday. It has been fun, and lots of people seem to have enjoyed it, so it seemed I might as well do it again. This year it will be the week of the 10th-16th May – Daphne du Maurier’s birthday being the 13th.

Daphne du Maurier seems to have a special place in the hearts of many readers – it always touches me how loved she still seems to be. So, let’s break open the books, settle down with tea and cake and for one week celebrate the life and work of a unique writer.

There won’t be a blog post from me every day – that might be a good thing! I can’t ever manage that level of content in a week – but I will be reading and reviewing two or three books I hope and I always love to see what other people are reading and reviewing.

I feel as if May has nearly crept up on me without my noticing, and so last night I ordered a couple of books, The King’s General and The du Mauriers to go with the Letters from Menabilly that I have been meaning to read for two years. With those books and the temptation to read Rebecca for the third time I will have plenty to choose from when the time comes. My Daphne du Maurier reading last year was so good – I feel like this year can’t possibly match it – I hope I am wrong.

I have a dedicated page for last year’s #DDMreadingweek – where there are links to lots of people’s reviews if you’re in need of inspiration. Nearer the time, I will take the page down to make way for a new page – so it won’t be there forever.

Hope to see lots of you joining in – novels, short stories, biography or letters anything goes.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »