So we start at the very beginning of Daphne’s career as we set about discussing ‘The Loving Spirit’. Saying that, as such a fan of Daphne’s I openly admit that I wasn’t sure that this would be my cup of tea. You see there are some Daphne novels which simply don’t sound very me, for example any book with lots of boats or boating in it normally turns me right off. The fact the cover of this book has a boat on it, hmmm, wasn’t the surest sign that I would love it, but I read on, and hit a second concern. Dialect.
Dialect in a novel is a tricky beast, it adds the perfect authenticity but does take some getting used to (not that I mind some hard work as I read, I think any book is a mutual dedication between author and reader) if done wrong it can ultimately grate on the reader. When I started to spot the accents in ‘The Loving Spirit’ my heart dropped a little, this was the first book Polly and I were jointly wanting you to read-a-long with us on. Oh no! Well, shame on me, I shouldn’t have worried should I because Daphne of course makes this all work. Wait, there is more, I had a third concern when I spotted that ‘The Loving Spirit’ was also going to be a ‘generational saga’.
Generational saga’s (is this a genre) are books that I always like the sound of reading because I am a nosey so and so and you can almost guarantee there will be drama’s here there and everywhere along the way. Invariably I then see they are normally absolutely massive and so while I intend to read them, because I know I will like them, I often find they languish on the shelf in favour of shorter/middle length books. Hey, I know what I like and some authors can write an epic in under 400 pages. In this instance I think I can include Daphne as one such author.
‘The Loving Spirit’ tells of four generations of the Coombe family. In fact the book is split into four parts and the narratives pass from Janet Coombe, to her son Joseph, to his son Christopher and ending with his daughter Jennifer. Now there is so much that happens with each one I wouldn’t want to spoil the plot but this book takes us from Plyn in Cornwall to London and back again from the years 1831 through to 1930, that’s quite a stretch and with a huge amount of historical moments to cover along with all the twists and turns of family drama’s. Hence you see how difficult it is to encompass every strand of the book and why I won’t try.
I will say that when I closed the final page I actually couldn’t believe Daphne had written this all at the age of 24, or that it was a debut novel. No it is not perfect, and in some parts the book is too rushed (the very beginning where we see Janet go from a rather wild young girl to boring ‘worrying for future generations’ housewife and obsessive mother in about ten pages, and at the end – which I won’t give away) there are also some really slow points. If I am honest I think maybe 20 pages of Joseph and Christopher’s accounts, the latter in particular who I felt Daphne didn’t even like herself, could have been cut. There were also some wonderful characters (mad old ladies) that didn’t get enough time and yet were utter scene stealers.
The writing though is marvellous throughout. The scenes and atmospheres of Cornwall, life on the sea’s and London are vivid and evoking. There is also that slight unease and dark undertone throughout the whole book. Not only when tragic or dark things happen to people but also in the thoughts of the characters. Janet loves her husband, but is aware there is something out there she might love more, what though is it? The gossips in Plyn and their shocking hints about sexual relations. I also thought there was a slight incestuous nature between Janet and her son Joseph, maybe that’s just me. I am only using Janet as an example as not to give away spoilers. She even sets unease in the most beautiful paragraphs, in fact the opening section of the book shows this marvellously.
‘Janet Coombe stood on the hill above Plyn, looking down upon the harbour. Although the sun was already high in the heavens, the little town was still wrapped in an early morning mist. It clung to Plyn like a thin pale blanket, lending to the place a faint whisper of unreality as if the whole had been blessed by ghostly fingers.’
I liked ‘The Loving Spirit’ a lot and think it’s a stunning debut, that could be because I have read Daphne’s other works and know what is yet to come, or it could just be that I am bowled over that a 24 year old could write such a worldly-wise book filled with so much at such an age. That sounds like I am making excuses to make it sound all the more spectacular and I don’t think that’s so and if it was the first Daphne Du Maurier I read I would be impressed but not desperate to rush out and grab another. Yet it has something about it that I admire. It is not the best book I have ever read, but its one I am certainly glad to have spent time curled up lost in the world of the Coombe’s and watched generations go by in several blissful hours.
You can see Polly of Novel Insights thoughts here. What did you think?