Daphne – Justine Picardie

I have had this book on the TBR pile for quite some time now and though have picked it up on several occasions I have never ended up reading as I have been slightly in fear of it. Not in fear of the size or subject matter, more in the fear that I wouldn’t like it and that no book could do justice to the life of my favourite writer. I also had the thought that if I read something which had been so thoroughly researched about Daphne I might not like her and that could tarnish all my reading experiences of her in the future and from the past. So with trepidation I opened the first page and…

I could barely put ‘Daphne’ down! The book is of course mainly about Daphne Du Maurier, though this is not a fictionalised life story which some people might assume. This is actually set in the late 50’s when Daphne herself was herself 50. It was a turbulent time in her life and actually inspired the collection of short stories in ‘The Breaking Point’ which I read only the other week. Her husband ‘Boy’ Browning was in a nursing home after a breakdown and so Daphne moved for a while to London and into Boy’s cramped flat where she was then confronted by his mistress ‘The Snow Queen’ who asked Daphne to free ‘Boy’ and that hiding his affair was clearly killing him.

Desperate to save her marriage despite her own affairs Daphne tries to turn Menabilly into the perfect ‘family’ and ‘marital home’ only not only does thoughts of the Snow Queen take her over but also the ghost of her own fictional creation Rebecca haunts and taunts her in her lonely hours. She then decides to throw herself fully into her latest project, the biography of Branwell Bronte. In doing so she strikes up a correspondence with scholar and Branwell expert Alex Symington who seems to have some secrets when it comes to all things Bronte especially after being ‘let go’ from the Parsonage Library itself because of the dealings of himself and his previous colleagues.

There is also third strain to the story as a young woman in Hampstead whose current situation seems to bear similarities to both Daphne in her 50’s but even more so to the ‘unnamed’ narrator of Daphne’s most famous works ‘Rebecca’. To escape the problems of her own marriage and her unhappiness by burying herself in a thesis on Daphne Du Maurier and the Bronte’s and their writings and also what she believes is a 50 year old literary mystery.

After taking a few pages to get used to reading one of my favourite authors as a character and as fiction (though quite clearly Justine Picardie has researched Daphne Du Maurier to the nth degree) I literally couldn’t stop reading the book. Though there are three narratives, and frankly I myself could overdose on all of the parts told through Daphne’s eyes, this is essential to the movement and mystery of the story as a whole. We get extra insights into the whole scenario through these different eyes and we piece the whole mystery together ourselves.

I imagine many people who haven’t read any Du Maurier (shame on you all) or any of the works by the Bronte’s (which includes me apart from having read Wuthering Heights, though I have been to the parsonage) would possibly think this book would leave them alienated, I honestly don’t think it would. As a stand alone book, though it’s a complex tale Justine Picardie tells, yet it all weaves together effortlessly. It is beautifully written too, the prose is quite stunning and in some parts poetic. I think this book must have been a true labour of love to write (the details have all been immaculately researched) the results are fantastic. This is an ideal book for any ‘bookworms’ out there without question.

This is a book anyone could enjoy not just the die hard Daphne fans like me, some of whom (cough) might have been both excited and worried about it, though if you loved Rebecca this is a great accompaniment. Justine Picardie handles this like a true master, you can also tell she completely loves the subject, I will definitely be reading more from her in the future. This is highly recommended reading, I have probably left something out I could praise this book till the cows come home.

I would love to do a Savidge Reads Grills with Justine only I dont know how to get in touch with her… if any of you do, do let me know!

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15 Comments

Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Daphne Du Maurier, Justine Picardie, Review

15 responses to “Daphne – Justine Picardie

  1. Sounds great! I haven’t read any Daphne Du Maurier books yet (sorry!), but do have Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel in Mt TBR.

    I have Daphne in there too – should I read Rebecca first?

    • I would read Rebecca first if I am honest as this book does give a few spoilers away unintentionally. Is definately better than some of the Rebecca sequels too! Though Susan Hill and Sally Beauman have written wonderful sequel/prequels I have heard! In fact I should read them soon!

  2. Dot

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this, I loved it. It is so true how you said that Justine Picardie makes the weaving of such a complex story seem effortless. I think this book just made me love Du Maurier even more!

    • I did indeed love this book and think that Justine Picardie is a bit of a legend now. I will be interested to read mroe of her books that dont have the Daphne side to it.

  3. CarolineC

    Glad you enjoyed it, Simon, I absolutely loved it too. I now have quite a few DduM books on my tbr, listened to Rebecca on audio and recently read Jamaica Inn – very atmospheric. The annual DduM festival at Fowey sounds great!
    Justine does have a blog although I’m not sure if that is the place to contact her, you never know though.

    • I am a regular reader of Justine’s blog but sadly to no avail. I would love to have a nice cuppa and a proper chin wag about Daphne with her, but it could be liable to go on for hours hahaha.

      I have always wanted to do the DduM (how chic) festival! Maybe one year!

  4. Since I’m reading Rebecca at the moment and have Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier lined up, I’m adding this book to my queue as well. Looks like I’m gonna be on a binge about Du Maurier.

  5. I loved this book and it inspired me to learn more about the Du Mauriers and Llewellyn Davies familes, not that I have done that yet! Top of the wishlist is Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon.

  6. Meg

    I finished “Daphne” this afternoon and found it to be fascinating and compelling reading. I loved the way the character of Justine Picardie’s prose changed depending upon the chapter. Daphne’s ‘speech’ was quite different from that of the more modern ‘narrator’, whose name we only discover at the end of the book. I am in my 70th year and have read many of Daphne du Maurier’s novels and all of those written by the Bronte sisters, together with some of their poems. This knowledge enhanced the reading of this book .

    • I havent read many of the Bronte novels, though am planning on doing so over the winter months. I had read a fair amount of Daphne novels before (I think her books are wonderful) and think you are right the additional information does help indeed.

      Thank you so much for commenting Meg.

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