Why I Love Daphne Du Maurier… She Made Me Read Again

Yes, really, this cover made me want to read this book!

I like to say that Daphne Du Maurier saved me as a reader. That sounds rather grand, yet in fact, credit where credit is due, it is true. So I shouldn’t say ‘I like to say it’ for it is a fact. If it hadn’t been for a battered second hand copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ (and, I should mention, Agatha Christie’s ‘The Body in the Library’, to be 100% fair) that I saw in a charity shop and bought because I liked the slightly camp cover, so at 50p thought ‘oh why not’, then I might not be the bookaholic I am today. This was in the days when I had a 45 minute commute on the tube from Colliers Wood to Goodge Street and back each day. I was thoroughly bored of reading ‘The Metro’ everyday I can tell you, and ‘Rebecca’ was a revelation for me. Suddenly at the opening of this magical book those 45 minutes which had previously painfully dragged simply weren’t long enough, I might not have dreamt of Manderlay but I certainly couldn’t wait to return at any spare moment.

I was a big reader as a child, until it came to GCSE English (when my teacher took any joy out of it, this continued at A Level) I literally couldn’t get enough of them. I always liked books that were a little creepy, something with a darkness that crept in from the edge of each page, a twist here and there. I also liked anything set in a big spooky house. In ‘Rebecca’ I found all these elements, only taken to another level, a darker side of humanity that I hadn’t seen before, a spooky house with a true malevolent presence, only in the form of a woman no longer there. This was the book that made me want to read again, and more specifically read ‘it’ again – so much so I read it once then quickly started it once more.

Researching all about Daphne after that (bless you google), in order to see just how many titles I had to get my hands on as quickly as possible, I became aware of a women who was as mysterious as her books (the minx) and yet who had been written off as merely a ‘romantic novelist’, someone who just wrote tales of love with a boat or two in them. Yet as I read on, and I think I have read three collections of short stories and five or six of her novels now, I couldn’t believe how wrong that assumption was and just how underrated people had made her. It still outrages me to think of it now.

Yes, there are love stories in most of her works  such as ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’, which are probably her best known(though you’d be hard pressed to find one in the short stories like ‘The Birds’ or ‘The Blue Lenses’). There is so much more built around them though; you have the good in people yet you also have the darkness that lingers in everyone, even the nicest soul as well as the truly wicked. There are twists and turns galore. As you read on I bet you will find yourself looking over your shoulder, not just with occasional unease, but because when you get lost in a novel by Daphne Du Maurier its hard not to feel like she is whispering the story in your ear, with a wry smile when something you weren’t expecting happens.

Had ‘Rebecca’ been my only love affair with an author I would always remember it none the less, yet as I have read on with Daphne (or as I like to call her, and I hope she wouldn’t mind, Daphers) she has unquestionably become one of my favourite writers. She’s eclectic, yet there’s that comfortable familiarity when you open the first few pages that no matter where she takes you its going to be something special, something unexpected. I don’t think you could ask for more of an author that that, which is maybe why every book I ever read will probably, in some way regardless of its story, genre or theme, have to live up to ‘Rebecca’ – which is kind of ironic if you have read the book. ‘Rebecca‘ it seems haunts me too. If you haven’t read ‘Rebecca’, you must, I already know re-reading it in a few weeks will be the highlight of my reading year, it might just be yours. I owe Daphne a big thank you, in fact without her this blog would most probably not be here. Do try her.

If you won’t take my word for it you can see Polly of Novel Insights thoughts on her here.

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19 Comments

Filed under Discovering Daphne

19 responses to “Why I Love Daphne Du Maurier… She Made Me Read Again

  1. I always find it so sad when English teachers put children off reading. I hear this time and again. How does it happen? Surely an English teacher must have (or once have had) a love of language themself? My GCSE English teacher was rubbish but thankfully my A level teacher was amazing. She overflowed with enthusiasm and picked out books that were very different from anything I’d read before (which, as a voracious reader, was an achievement). I can’t thank her enough for keeping the love alive!

    • Well if my GCSE teacher was anything to go by he seemed anything but enthused, in fact quite the opposite. I think also it’s the repetition we had in having to read the same sections over and over. Where was the fun.

      Mind you it scares me that kids now have no need to read an entire book when they study English in the UK, just excerpts. That to me is bonkers.

  2. Simon, I love love love this post! And I love Rebecca for bringing you back to reading – and, to top it off, I love Rebecca on its own merits. Such a wonderful book. (Although that cover is scandalously awful!)

    I also laughed a little at ‘Daphers’. Bless your heart!

  3. Lovely lovely post, Simon. Love the cover too — I can see why you wanted to buy it. I’ve got a friend staying who has just finished reading Rebecca for the first time, so we have been having some interesting discussion of it. I am urging him to go on to My Cousin Rachel, which I think is also a fantastic novel.

    • Aww thanks Harriet. The cover is rather fabulous isn’t it? I wish you’d recorded your discussions of the book I’d have loved to have heard them.

      My Cousin Rachel is my next book group read on the 24th. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be interesting and I am very excited about a big group Du Maurier debate.

  4. My English Lit teacher did the same thing – took all the joy out of reading and made it into something that must be analysed, picked apart and then sewn into reason. I’m lucky in that my enjoyment of Cloudstreet (Tim Winton ) and Pride and Prejudice survived that. Why can’t we read for the love of it?
    Finding it hard to find a copy of Rebecca at the moment so I may have to join in reading The Loving Spirit.

    • I think it’s the picking apart, which I do now as an adult more naturally than I would have as a kid, that kills it. Learn to analyse what you read however you want… Once the love of reading is just allowed to flourish.

  5. Damn, I should not have read this. Now I’m all fired up for a good read and it’s miserable outside (perfect reading weather as you said before) but no Daphne!

    *SIGH* I will go and get my umbrella then. Hope you’re happy.

  6. The Blue Lenses is one of my favorite short stories. I can imagine a wonderful film variation delivered by Tim Burton or the like. Daphne du Maurier is an author I just began to read last year and just last month read Rebecca for the first time. I am better for it and look forward to picking up her other works.

  7. Simon – I love this post so much. It’s so personal, and I think Daphers 😉 would love it. She is a fascinating character. I’ve read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel and a few short stories but definitely want to pick up more. I love your description of opening one of her books and feeling “comfortable.” Her writing is unexpected but still familiar, and I love that.

    • To say Daphers would love it, and the idea she might makes me go all doolally at the thought.

      There is an uneasy comfort in reading Daphers which is delightful and deliciously dark all in one, naturally I relish it.

  8. Oh, I love your post, too. I adore love letters to writers, books and literature in general!

  9. Rebecca is definitely my favourite by du Maurier so far but I’m looking forward to seeing what her short stories will be like. I don’t think I’ve encountered a scarier character than Mrs. Danvers!

    • I am a little Danvers obsessed. I have always dreamed of writing her fictional life story. I don’t think anything I ever did would touch the genius of Du Maurier so instead I just dream of it.

  10. Pingback: Daphne Du Maurier; Did These Covers Help or Hinder… |

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