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.