Category Archives: Daphne Du Maurier

The Birds – Daphne Du Maurier (A Spook-tacular Giveaway)

Get ready for a couple of book giveaways happening over the next few days on Savidge Reads because I feel like after having abandoning you on and off over the last few weeks, those of you who have carried on visiting (you hardcore bunch) deserve some thanks. The first of these is a book giveaway that is utterly befitting of the time of year and that is the newly reissued edition of Daphne Du Maurier’s collection The Birds and Other Stories. Be warned, the cover is so stunning it is X rated on the book cover porn stakes…

9781844080878

… See I told you that it was stunning. I read this collection for the first time back in 2010 and, as you can see from my review here – which is old so don’t judge it too harshly, I absolutely loved it. Not only does it have the title story, which Hitchcock then immortalised in the movie, but it also spooky tales like ‘The Apple Tree’, ‘Monte Verita’ and ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’. So perfect for this time of year.

Speaking of the movie, this weekend I will be hosting a special screening of The Birds in Waterstones Tottenham Court Road with The Bluestocking Club and Virago, which you can find more details here though I think it is almost sold out so if you want a ticket grab it quick. Virago and I thought it might be nice to share the (creepy) birdy book love, as it is so apt for this time of year, and so they have kindly offered up THREE copies of the book to give away to Savidge Readers in the UK. So, if you would like a copy of the book then please let me know what your favourite creepy book or story is and why in the comments below. You have until the stroke of midnight on All Hallow’s Eve (so midnight GMT next Monday) to enter. Good luck, I can wait to hear all your scary suggestions…

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Happy Christmas – Daphne Du Maurier

I don’t think I have put a book review as a post on Christmas Day before, I am sure you are all having too much of a lovely time with your family, or just filled with chocolates and the like, to be reading the blog. I hope I will be. However there didn’t seem a more ideal day to discuss Happy Christmas by Daphne Du Maurier, a rather rare short story/novella that couldn’t be more ideal for today and so I have done some scheduling, not sledging, scheduling.

Todd Publishing, 1953, novella, 24 pages, bought as an early Christmas present for myself

Todd Publishing, 1953, novella, 24 pages, bought as an early Christmas present for myself

The Lawrence house is busy and bustling trying to get itself organised, well the staff are, in time for Christmas and a day of festivities and feasting between the Lawrence family and their neighbours. Busy Mr Lawrence is watching all from the side lines while his wife fusses over what needs to be done (by the staff) and their children Bob and Marjorie (their names being one of the few things that dates this tale) squeal about what they want for Christmas. We all know the score. However after a phone call the mood changed when the local refugee charity, who Mrs Lawrence signed up to because she felt she should as everyone else was, call telling them that they have a Jewish couple in need of shelter. Worrying that this will inconvenience and possibly ruin Christmas they decide that they have no room other than above the garage building and so begrudgingly agree.

I won’t say more on the plot as the tale is only a very short 24 pages. I can talk about my reaction to it though. Initially I have to say I had a horrid feeling that this was a rather racist tale, especially after how put out the Lawrence’s are about the Jews coming to stay and a few rather antisemetic comments fly from her and her husbands mouths. However, that was a lazy initial reaction and one I was annoyed at myself for even thinking Daphne would deign to write. As I read on I realised that in a modern mirroring of the religious tale of Christmas, rather than the big jolly fat man with a beard, Du Maurier is actually pointing out that deep down many of us have forgotten just what on earth Christmas is actually about.

This isn’t a case of religious preaching or bashing the reader over the head and as someone who isn’t religious I think I would have spotted it if it was. It is just a tale that says Christmas isn’t all about having the latest most marvellous gifts, showing off to relations and neighbours (or indeed trying to outdo them), it is a time to think how lucky we are and remember it is a time of charity and giving, the latter not having to be on such a grand scale. As someone who had up until this point been mildly grumpy that I wouldn’t be getting an iPhone 5S for Christmas it gave me a short sharp slap round the face and I know that whatever happens on Christmas Day I will just be feeling thankful I am with people who love me and who I love… even if they probably want to play bloody charades!

Considering Happy Christmas is now sixty years old it is a short story that most of us in this modern world could do with reading to be given a reminder to look sharp, buck up and think on as to what Christmas is really all about. It is only short but it packs one very big punch. Well done, Daphne.

Oh and if you want an extra little magical tale, you can find out the way I ended up getting this copy of Happy Christmas here. Bookish fate. I hope you are all having a wonderful day.  

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World Book Night Returns with ‘Rebecca’

Many apologies if the jubilations yesterday evening woke you up, or disturbed you, wherever you may be. I think most of the people in the local vicinity of where I reside will no doubt already be aware that I got picked to give out Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, my favourite book of all time so far, for World Book Night on the 23rd of April. To say I was beyond thrilled would be something of an understatement.

I really enjoyed the experience last year when I gave away many a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, one of my favourite contemporary novels, at Christies Hospital (which specialises in cancer) last year. Without dumbing down that experience I have to say I even more excited that I can now share my very favourite read with 25 unsuspecting people, and know that they will have several hundred pages of utter reading delight ahead of them. The only questions now are where to give them out and how?

 

As ‘Rebecca’ is such a special read to me, as you may know, I really want to do something rather different. My initial idea was to dress as Mrs Danvers, but I decided that might actually freak people out (and while I have lost a good three stone in the last few months, Polly of Novel Insights didn’t recognise me initially when we last met up, I don’t think I have the austere willowy figure Danvers requires) and that might have them running away without the book rather than running off to read it. Second thought was to give the book out at a suitably Manderley old house, yet I am not sure a stately home’s clientele are going to be hard up for money to buy a copy of it, and I do want to spread the Daphers and bookish love to those who might not have the opportunity to have read it for whatever reason. Hmmm, there’s something to puzzle over a while. I do have a good few weeks though.

For now I will just revel in the warm happiness of knowing I am giving the book away, and keep brainstorming. If you have any ideas for a way of me appropriately giving ‘Rebecca’ away then do let me know. Have any of you been chosen, and if so what are you planning to do? Any stories, or ideas, if you gave books away last year are also welcome.

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My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier

There are some books which you finish and feel a mixture of utter joy that you read something so wonderful, swiftly followed by that lurch in your chest when you realise that these books come few and far between and that you won’t have this exact experience ever again, even if you were to re-read the book from the start… something which you invariably want to do in these situations. This was the exact set of feelings that I had after I had read the very last line, and oh what a closer it was too (no spoilers coming though I promise), of ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Daphne Du Maurier.

Virago Books, paperback, 1951, fiction, 304 pages, from my personal TBR

Philip Ashley is the narrator of ‘My Cousin Rachel’ he is a rather naïve young man who has grown up under the care of his elder cousin Ambrose, who owns a large estate, and has become like a mixture of father, brother and best friend. He is also being lined up as Ambrose’s heir and replacement as manager of the estate which often means when Ambrose has to go away to avoid the winters Philip is left in charge. On one such trip to Italy Ambrose writes to Philip that he has met ‘our cousin Rachel’ a woman who slowly looms larger in letters before Ambrose announces they have married, only soon after Ambrose suddenly dies after sending Philip some much more ominous correspondence and soon Rachel herself descends upon Philip’s life.

The story so far does sound a relatively simple one; however I have only really given you the gist of the very first parts of the book. As it goes on, and what sets it apart, the psychological intensity Du Maurier weaves through the pages along with the constant sense that she could pull the rug from under you at any given moment is incredible. Before Rachel even appears herself, around 80 pages in, she is quite the presence and the reader has quite possibly made up their mind about her through Philip’s utter jealously and then suspicion of this woman. Daphne then brings in a character quite unlike the one we would imagine. It is this game of Rachel being a misunderstood sweet if tragic innocent or magnificently manipulative calculating monster that makes you turn the page, are you right about her or utterly wrong?

“Since my journey to the villa she had become a monster, larger than life itself. Her eyes were as black as sloes, her features aquiline like Rainaldi’s, and she moved about those musty villa rooms sinuous and silent, like a snake.”

As with all of Daphne’s novels this is also a book about the human psyche generally, again this is often the case, the much darker sides of it. Jealousy is at the heart of this novel (I occasionally wondered about the nature of obsession too in terms of Philip and his attachment to Ambrose, or was there something other that dared not speak its name?), Philip makes all his initial opinions on Rachel on nothing more than that one pure emotion, after Ambrose’s death comes grief and anger and here too Rachel becomes the focal point for this. We also have to ask ourselves if Philip is an incredibly perceptive young man despite his almost closeted childhood, or is he possibly just as unreliable and possibly as innocently beguiling as Rachel herself? Something on every page makes you question yourself, it is quite incredible.

The atmosphere of the book is also utterly brilliant. In fact ‘My Cousin Rachel’ rather reminded me of the sensation stories of the late 1800’s, which I think is when this novel is meant to be set though we never officially know the time period. From the very opening sentence ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.’ we know we are in for a dark and brooding tale, and Du Maurier certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Many people claim this is like a sister novel to Du Maurier’s most famous work ‘Rebecca’ and I think to say that does do ‘My Cousin Rachel’ an injustice. Yes there is the gothic feel and uneasy atmosphere of both novels, they both feature large estates, we also have a mystery at the heart of each tale and a woman who takes over every page even though she may not be in the book that often. I grant the fact they do both also look at dark human traits but in very, very different ways and though ‘Rebecca’ will always be my favourite Du Maurier novel I am not sure that ‘My Cousin Rachel’ could be beaten for it’s sense of never knowing the truth, in fact I would say Daphne leaves much more to the reader in this novel than she did in ‘Rebecca’ and I loved that.

I had always been told to leave ‘My Cousin Rachel’ as one of the last of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels because it was one of the best. I would heartily recommend people read this as their first Du Maurier novel because once you have read it I can almost guarantee you will want to go off and discover more of her works, I really envy you joy you have ahead of you if you haven’t read this novel before. This will easily be a contender for my book of the year almost exactly fifty years after it was originally published.

I should actually thank Ruth (and I think Jeanette) for making me read ‘My Cousin Rachel’ much sooner than I had ever intended, this was going to be one of those ‘save it for a rainy day’ reads that would languish on my TBR forever. I had also not anticipated reading Daphne so soon after ‘Discovering Daphne’ with Polly. I am thrilled I read it and it’s another reminder that I need to stop putting off the books I really want to read and just get on and read them as I mentioned a week ago.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Virago Books

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #5

So to end this years ‘Discovering Daphne’ season I begged and begged Polly to let us finish with ‘Rebecca’ as it is my favourite read of Daphne’s and indeed, I think, of all time so far. It was a toss up between this and Polly’s favourite ‘Jamaica Inn’ and Polly, being the lovely person she is, caved in. The thing was though, once I knew a ‘’Rebecca re-read’ was lined up I started to get really nervous. What happened if the book I loved suddenly felt flawed, what if I didn’t like the unnamed narrator this time or feel any empathy for her, what if Mrs Danvers left me cold, what if I didn’t find it as atmospheric and haunting? I started to get a little panicked.

9781844080380

Virago Books, paperback, 1938, fiction, 448 pages, from my bookshelves

After closing the final page of ‘Rebecca’ a few days ago it was a struggle not to head straight back to the start… yet again. If I could physically get lost in a book then ‘Rebecca’, and of course Manderley, would be the place I would be happy to be stuck in forever. From the very moment of those first immortal lines “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” to the final pages and THAT ending (no spoilers here don’t worry) I was hooked line and sinker and in for the long haul, and how it has made these long dark nights all the more bearable, and all the more haunting.

For those of you who don’t know the book, or its rather infamous plot, ‘Rebecca’ is a tale of ‘the other woman’ only in this case the other woman is dead – amazing, and clever, that she is one of the most formidable characters in the book and the lives of all those living who we join. The unnamed narrator tells her tale of how, when accompanying a rich American lady Mrs Van Hopper (who is a fabulous small character) on holiday, she meets Maxim de Winter and after a whirl wind romance marries him and finds herself back in England and the new lady of Manderlay, a wonderful gothic mansion. Yet once back in Maxim’s home his past, and indeed his previous wife Rebecca (and her mysterious death) come to haunt them, quite literally, along with a little help from the housekeeper Mrs Danvers.

Here I shall leave the story, for if you haven’t read it yet I don’t want to give anything further away, especially as this is a book which has some wonderful, and equally dreadful, twists and turns as it develops. I can say that on a re-read the unnamed narrator (who I once insisted was called Caroline after one re-reading) did annoy me a lot more than she usually does initially, not to the point where it affected the book, but I did think ‘oh get a grip love’ but then because of the psychological aspect of the book and indeed her situation as usual I did once more start to feel for her and could understand how some one like Mrs Danvers could so easily manipulate and scare a woman like her, she scares me.

One of my very favourite things about ‘Rebecca’ is undoubtedly Mrs Danvers, she’s psychotically obsessed with her former mistress and clearly has a dark background which we only get the vaguest notions of. She’s just wonderfully wicked and deliciously, dangerously demented. I have always thought because of her complexity and nature she is one of my favourite characters in fiction, unnervingly stealing the limelight on any page she appears. I have often pondered that I would love to write a fictional account of her life, I could never do it justice though I am sure.

Back to ‘Rebecca’ and along with its wonderful twists and turns, its atmosphere (which is incredible, you feel like you are there with these characters in this gothic, dark, spooky time and place which always, no matter how sunny or lovely come with a darkness in the corners) the one thing that I think makes it such an incredible story is what it says about people, the reasons they do things, the real motives and emotions both the dark and the light of the human condition. That probably sounds grand, but it’s true. There are lots of depths to a novel like this that lie behind what initially may seem a dark and gothic love story, which it also is yet is really so, so, so much more. In fact I would dare to suggest that this could be the perfect book, even if only for me.

As you have probably guessed by now I could easily ramble on about ‘Rebecca’ for hours and hours, I just hope if you haven’t read the book you might read this and pick it up/run for the nearest open book shop. If you have read it, maybe you will be tempted to pluck it off the shelves (because if you have read it I doubt very much you could have given it away) once more, and if you have re-read it for ‘Discovering Daphne’ I cant wait to see what you thought…

Actually I also can’t wait to see what Polly thought either, as she has been rather secretive about it until today.

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Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #4

Oh Daphne Du Maurier thank you, thank you, thank you, for ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’. Not only because I loved it as a collection but also because secretly inside I was beginning to worry that while the other books in the read-along for ‘Discovering Daphne’ have also showed how versatile she is as an author, none of them had quite hit the eerie tone I was hoping for this time of year. This now has of course all changed thanks to the five (well four of the five) stories which make this collection. Well I think it has anyway.

Penguin Classics, paperback, 1971, fiction, 268 pages, from the library (mine is lost in the post)

It is always hard to write about a short story collection. You want to write about each individual story and yet in doing so you could give the plot of each one away. This becomes ever more possible in a collection like ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’ where they all work so well because of the twists and the turns and stings in the tail, which of course Daphne Du Maurier is so good at. So I am going to briefly summarise them before hopefully giving you an overall ‘feeling’ for the collection, or the one I was left with at least. Let’s see how I do.

Probably the most famous of the collection, because it became a film, is the title story of ‘Don’t Look Now’ which starts with the wonderful, and apt, line “Don’t look now,” John said to his wife, “but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.” Laura and John Baxter are on holiday in Venice after the death of their young daughter, whilst there they spot a pair of elderly identical twins on of whom appears to have psychic powers and not only says their dead daughter is with them and happy, but if they don’t leave Venice something dreadful will happen. I shall say no more on it than that apart from the fact that I the ending isn’t what I guess and I imagine the last line of this tale will divide readers. I haven’t decided if it worked or not yet, I think it did, kind of.

Three of the other tales are equally bizarre and have a sinister undertone at the heart of them shrouded in a good few twists and unexpected endings. ‘A Border-Line Case’ is a fascinating account of a young actress called Shelagh who pursues a man who is linked to the IRA and is planning a bombing raid, only that isn’t the darkest thing about him. ‘The Breakthrough’ is a much more gothic scientific experiment tale in essence which made me think of one of Daphne’s novels ‘The House on the Strand’ only much shorter naturally, but also with even more of a sense of the ilk of novels like ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ at its heart. There was also the wonderful, and possibly my favourite of the collection, ‘Not After Midnight’ (which was the original title of this collection on its release in 1971) which sees a painter meet and befriend a couple on a holiday, the woman invites him to their hotel room but ‘not after midnight’. I really can say no more than that on any of them because they build slowly, start to disconcert the reader and make them question what the narrators or story is saying before twisting and turning to the end. (We can say more in the comments though!)

It was therefore almost a shame for me that the longest tale in the book ‘The Way of the Cross’, and the one in the middle of this collection, really failed for me. (I guess there is always one, at least, in a collection that will do this isn’t there?) It’s a tale of a pilgrimage of a group of people to Jerusalem and it was rather preachy and had a precocious child in it that I didn’t get on with. Plus it was more character than plot driven, both a good and bad thing, whilst also being rather moralistic, and in a way whilst having a slight sinister moment or two ended far too happily for my liking. It didn’t fit for me and that was my problem with it. I think had it been in any other collection of Daphne’s it might have gotten off more lightly, but this has always been a collection sold on it suspense and sense of the supernatural.

Overall however ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’ is a wonderful collection which does have a brooding, intense and often rather unnerving feeling about it. Each tale is very different yet they all like to make you feel equally uneasy. Don’t expect to pick up this book and be unable to sleep without the lights on, they are much more subtle and psychological than that. There is a real knack with any novel that builds on suspense over a long while to not become boring for a reader (which Daphne is also brilliant at), yet in a short story you must do this quickly but not to quickly whilst adding in atmosphere, tension, misdirection etc all at once and in a condensed way. It is this very style which Daphne excels at and I think is when she is at her most engaging for her readers and shows what a marvellous writer she is. I do love Daphne’s short story collections, I think they should all become classics along side this one.

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The House on the Strand – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #3

Sorry for the delay with my thoughts on ‘The House on the Strand’ the third in the Discovering Daphne readalongs. This was a book that I didn’t struggle with exactly but one which needed patience and some effort (no bad thing) for me as a reader to work through. No book should be rushed but some books ask so many questions that you need the odd break to let your head catch up with it all. This is a prime example of such a novel and Daphne taxed me and tested me with this book and I admire her all the more for it, even if I didn’t come away from the book loving it I certainly appreciated it.

Virago Books, paperback, 1969, fiction, 352 pages, taken from my personal TBR

Dick Young is a man who finds himself caught between two times in ‘The House on the Strand’, and I mean that literally. As he stays in his old friends house, a scientist called Magnus Lane, he starts taking a drug Magnus has created which transports him to the same place only in the 1300s. I have to admit I was instantly really drawn in initially. I was excited by where Du Maurier would take this concept and therefore me along with her.

As the novel goes on Dick almost becomes addicted to this travelling. Even though as his body stays in the present he ends up hurting himself or getting stuck as some walls didn’t exist back then. (I was surprised Daphne didn’t make more use of this for the darkly comical actually having read her other works.) As his wife Vita and her children join him from America they take him away from this addiction, yet is it in fact escapism from a marriage that might be failing and even unwanted along with the person he is in the present?

Whilst I loved the idea behind the book it’s main flaw for me was not the idea of time travel but the setting in the 1300s. I wasn’t really interested in his time travelling or the people he met, a sometimes too wide cast of charcters including Lady Isolda and a man servant called Roger. I was much more interested in the why. So weirdly the hopping back and forth started to slightly frustrate me as, to my mind at least, the main crux of the novel was very much in the present.

I do find whatever Daphne writes you know there will be both the twists and turns (which arrive just in time in this book thankfully) and also the deeper and yet subtle undertones. For me this book had a lot to say about sexuality and acceptance of the self. Maybe that sounds a bit grand? I didn’t think Dick wanted to be married and in fact thought the closeness he shared with Magnus when younger and the reverberating remnants of all that said a lot without ever been overtly written about or forced in the reader too much. Sometimes it is what Daphne doesn’t say… Or could I just have been looking for it?

I was strangely reminded of my dabblings with Iris Murdoch in this book. She too dealt with sexuality, philosophical themes and the metaphysical, all which also run through ‘The House on the Strand’. It tested me, but so it should. I also liked the slight gothic scientific elements of the book. Was it me or are there hints of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and ‘Frankenstein’ here?

I cannot pretend this is my favourite Daphne Du Maurier ‘story’ because I think there is so much more going on in this book (not that there isn’t in all her books, this one just seems more overt and blatant) indeed partly because of where she found her life at the point she wrote this and how she dealt with it explains alot and that to me this novel is almost like a look into the exorcising of her mind and that fascinated me. I felt I got to know her a little more through the complexity of this book, is that odd?

‘The House on the Strand’ is a real mixture and not just because of the questions it raises, or the themes it looks at, it’s also a mix of historical, philosophical and borders on the edges of science fiction. It’s quite unlike any books of hers, or indeed in general, that I have read so far. It might not be a book to curl up with and get lost in (which was the expectation I had set, so I could be at fault for that assumption hence finding the book all the more difficult in parts) it’s a book to sit down with and get you thinking, it just needs some patience and mutual hard work. Some of the best books do that though don’t they? Even if we don’t enjoy them as the escapism we hoped for, we enjoy them for the experience they give us and the questions we have to look at. I will be thinking about this book, and all it raised, for quite some time.

You can see Polly of Novel Insights thoughts on it here.

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Discovering Daphne… In Her Own Words

I am a little behind with ‘The House on the Strand’ and still have about 100 pages to go, sorry, but rather than rush it (which I really don’t want to) I thought that in the meantime I would post some video’s of Daphne Du Maurier herself  discussing the reads that me and the lovely Polly of Novel Insights have already discussed, and asked you to give a whirl, so far in ‘Discovering Daphne’ season.

So here is Daphers discussing ‘The Loving Spirit’

And here she is talking about ‘Mary Anne’

Hope you find them as insightful as I did. It was also really interesting, for me at least, to see her talking… about anything. So how are you all getting along with Daphne? Who is up for some dark short stories next week with the ‘Rebecca’ finale to follow?

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Mary Anne – Daphne Du Maurier

Sometimes there is a special magical feeling that can take over you as you start a book. The writing has you, the characters have you, it is all just working and you know within between five and ten pages that this is going to be a book that you are going to love. I had this tingling sensation from the very start of ‘Mary Anne’, a novel  by Daphne Du Maurier that I have to admit I simply thought was going to be her ‘having a crack at the historical genre’. I wasn’t sure I would be convinced, even though it was Daphers at the helm, I was (of course) promptly and utterly bowled over by it. In fact I loved it so much that I lingered over it and almost didnt finish it in time for today’s planned post. Oops.

Virago, paperback, 1954, fiction, 320 pages, from my personal TBR

‘Mary Anne’ is a historical novel set in the Regency period. I was not familiar with this period, which is a period in British history from 1811 – 1820, before I started the book now however I am desperate to know much more. Daphne Du Maurier steeps the book in atmosphere from the very first pages which had me hooked as they were told from the death beds, and last memories of the four main men in Mary Anne’s life. After this we begin with her poor start in life in the grotty streets of London as she learns her charms and how to use them for her ascent, for that is really the initial part of the story, and how, after a rather disastrous marriage, Mary Anne becomes a prostitute (though a rather exclusive one) and the lover and mistress of the Duke of York. That isn’t the end of the story though, and doesn’t really cover the start if I am honest. I am just highlighting the tale but there is so much more to read it for, honest.

In attempt to avoid any spoilers I will say that once she becomes the lover of the Duke of York she gets rather overly used to the life of a rich woman and all its spoils, yet soon she wants more and more and so starts to do some rather underhand dealings in the name of the Duke which leads to a huge scandal. There is also that saying of ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and when the Duke decides that he is finished with Mary Anne, she isn’t so sure she is finished with him.

What makes this story all the more fascinating is that it is based on Daphne’s own great-great Grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke. Some might say ‘well where is the originality or plot design in that, writing about your own family history’ or indeed people might say ‘if it is about her own family isn’t she going to be biased’. With regard to the first point I would say a lot of authors write what they know and there was a great deal of time between Daphne writing this novel in 1954 and her great-great Grandmothers scandal. Plus the story is only part of the book, the atmosphere is incredible and I went from feeling like I wasn’t bothered about the era to now wanting to throw myself into more of it.

I do think that the fact Daphne was clearly fond of Mary Anne, in part because she was fascinating and also because she was part of the family, I did feel that there was a slight biased angle to the novel. I loved the character of Mary Anne, she is forthright, intelligent, ballsy, saucy and very witty (in fact I kept thinking it must have run in the family) and I loved spending time with her. I found the way she used her looks and charms to get what she wanted gave you that ‘tart with a heart’ twist which has made novels like ‘Moll Flanders’ etc so successful. However when the ‘scandal’ breaks she almost becomes a victim and I found myself thinking ‘hang on, this might not quite have been the case’. I then shrugged this off and got lost in the tale again.

I really enjoyed ‘Mary Anne’, my only criticism (or warning) would be that there is rather a lot of ‘courtroom drama’ towards the end of the book and I did find this a little wooden and research filled, but then I think all things courtroom based are quite dull (I was a legal secretary for a while in my early twenties and used to hate the court case work), its rare an author makes them exciting it’s a shame this was towards the end of the novel as it did slightly, though only very slightly, dull the books overall charm, though thankfully it didn’t become the lasting or lingering impression the book has on you.

I can’t hide the fact that I am thoroughly enjoying this Daphne-a-thon and cannot wait to get into ‘The House on the Strand’ for next weeks ‘Discovering Daphne Read-along’ on Sunday the 16th. In fact as it is so gloomy, foreboding, chilly and rather windily auntumnal outside today, I think the timing is perfect to pick it up right now.

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Justine Picardie Joins ‘Discovering Daphne’ Part One…

In the first of two special interviews for ‘Discovering Daphne’ I get to grill the lovely Justine Picardie about her novel Daphne and the wonderful woman who inspired it…

Before I opened the first page of ‘Daphne’ I did expect it just to be about Daphne Du Maurier, instead we have a tale of Daphne, Bramwell Bronte and an unnamed narrator, which reflects Rebecca. Was Daphne’s the story you wanted to tell in the main, or was it one of the other characters that started it all and Daphne suddenly popped in unannounced?

The origins of ‘Daphne’ are in one sense very simple — I’d loved reading her novels since childhood, and had a powerful attachment to the Cornish landscape that she describes — but as is often the case with writing, there was a far more complicated alchemy that formed a catalyst for the beginnings of my novel. I wrote an introduction for a Virago edition of ‘The King’s General’ in 2003, which prompted my return to the mysterious place that is Menabilly — Du Maurier’s beloved house near Fowey, an inherent element of ‘Rebecca’ and ‘The King’s General’, although uninhabited and close to ruin when she wrote ‘Rebecca’ (indeed, it was the huge success of this novel that allowed Du Maurier to lease Menabilly from the Rashleigh family, and finance its restoration). Two years later, I wrote a second introduction for Virago — this time for ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ — and was fascinated by the book, and by Du Maurier’s dedication of her work to the Bronte scholar, Symington. Coincidentally — or perhaps this was one of those apparently magical instances of synchronicity — I was already intrigued by the mysterious Mr Symington, having already encountered him in my research while I was working on a chapter entitled ‘Charlotte Bronte’s Ring’ for my previous book, ‘My Mother’s Wedding Dress’. All of which probably sounds impossibly tanged a tale, but seemed to resonate for me.

Daphne was a very complex woman from what we read about her, how did you go about getting into her head? Being a fan of hers, which you clearly are, were you adding pressure on yourself that this had to be right? How did you find her narrative voice?

I read and read and read — every word that she had written — her novels, short stories, letters, notes, memoirs — and immersed myself in the Du Maurier archive at Exeter University, and other archival collections elsewhere. Perhaps I wasn’t in her head, but her voice was certainly in mine.

The research in the book is incredible, yet at no point did I think ‘oh Justine is just showing off now’ which can happen with some books that have a biographical and indeed historical element. How did you do the research for this book and how did you manage not to include every single fascinating fact you discovered along the way?

Thank you! Whenever and whatever I am writing — whether about the history of nineteenth psychical investigations in ‘If The Spirit Moves You’, or during the years of research for my most recent book, ‘Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life’ — I immerse myself in archives and museums and  libraries, as well as doing hundreds of interviews with the relevant people who can provide insight, advice, and expert knowledge on the subject matter. Then I sift through it all, cross reference, obsess, analyse, dream, debate with myself and others — and finally start to write. As I write, the details of the research permeate my text, but don’t always appear — so the facts  are very much in my mind, and between the lines, rather than being obviously inserted into the story.

I don’t know about you but I have fantasy dinner parties in my head, and I think, along with Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier would have to be one of the top guests I imagine I could invite every time. Getting to know her in the way you must have researching this book did you think you would like her?

She might not have been comfortable company, but I always like the person I’m writing about — actually, that’s an understatement — they become central to my thoughts.

Having read Daphne’s childhood memoirs ‘Growing Pains’, which I have since learnt has been republished as ‘Myself When Young’, I noticed the mention of ‘The Snow Queen’ in the form of her mother, there always seemed to be a Snow Queen in Daphne’s life, why do you think it was and why did she always give her that name?

Another excellent question! The Snow Queen was — and is — a powerful presence, for Daphne and the rest of us. The icy yet enticing woman in white — alluring and destroying and compelling, even as you fear her touch.

This is a toughie, but what do you think Daphne would have made of your fictional version of her life? Would you have written it if she was still alive?

I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, have written it when she was still alive. Who knows what she would have thought of it — but I hope she might have seen it as a tribute to her power and lasting influence on subsequent writers; just as she herself had been influenced by the Brontes, and immersed herself in ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’.

‘Rebecca’ is Daphne’s most famous novel of them all followed by ‘Jamaica Inn’ which other novels would you demand people following ‘Discovering Daphne’ go and read? Have you read all of her novels yet, or have you left some to savour?

I’ve read them all, and would recommend each and every one. ‘My Cousin Rachel’ is a particular favourite of mine — however many times I read it, I’m never sure of who is the villain and which is the victim — and I’m also a huge fan of her short stories. Just think of The Birds or Don’t Look Now — such dark tales that they have had an afterlife in two haunting films — and other, less well known but equally compelling stories in ‘The Breaking Point’. And don’t forget about ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ — worth reading for what it tells you about Du Maurier herself, as well as the Brontes.

A huge thank you to Justine for taking the time to discuss ‘Daphne’ and Daphne Du Maurier with us, tomorrow the grilling continues with Polly over at Novel Insights

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Growing Pains; The Shaping of a Writer – Daphne Du Maurier

One of my favourite feelings is when you discover a book by one of your favourite authors that is no longer in print in the most unlikely of places. Once such incident happened sometime last year when I visited the local hospital and discovered a discarded ex-library copy of ‘Growing Pains – the Shaping of a Writer’ by none other than Daphne Du Maurier. It was made slightly the more joyous a find because I had no idea that this book even existed.

Gollancz, hardback, 1977, memoir, 173 pages, an ex-library gem I bought

It is probably best to let Daphne Du Maurier explain herself what ‘Growing Pains’ is about, which fortunately she does in the author’s note at the start of the book. ‘The following pages will, I hope, give me the answer. They cover my thoughts, impressions and actions from the age of three until I was twenty five, after my first novel had been published. I was uncertain of myself, naive and immature, and readers looking for deep thoughts and words of wisdom will be disappointed.’ The last part of which I couldn’t disagree with more as this is an incredibly insightful account of her life through retrospection, and also a very honest one.

Daphne tells us of her childhood and how important stories were too her, though oddly not a fan of fairy tales (which I would have given anything to ask her more bout) she grew up with a highly over active imagination. Before she could write properly she announced to a new governess that she had written ‘an entire novel’ when in truth, and soon discovered, she couldn’t write a sentence. She always wanted more from stories and would ask when a book was finished ‘why is that the end’ or ‘why did that person live in a wood’, she wanted to inhabit and create a stories entire world. This in turn lead to worrying developments after her imagination went into overdrive as she started to believe her mother actually was the Snow Queen in the book she was reading to Daphne and her sisters. In fact Daphne never quite shook this feeling. Which made me think about the interesting relationship rumoured between Daphne and her father. It was an almost obsessive hero worship.

‘I still believed in Father Christmas and yet… How did he mange to get down everybody’s chimneys all in one night? It just couldn’t be done. And supposing he didn’t… supposing it wasn’t true… ? I remember finding a net stocking full of toys hidden under a cushion in M’s morning-room at Cumberland Terrace. Why was it there? If something was not true, why make it up in the first place? But then, here was the puzzle. Stories in books were not true. The person who wrote the book made them up. Somehow, that did not matter. Pilgrim’s Progress was a story. It did not really happen. That was all right. But if fairies were just invented to deceive children, and Father Christmas too, what about the picture in my prayer-book that my godmother Billy had given me…’

As the book goes on Daphne never stops questioning in fact she questions all the more. The way this subtle decision to write builds over the years is utterly fascinating to read. In fact I am shocked this is no longer in print as it would be the perfect text for all aspiring writers, dare I say even a few published ones. I also loved the book for the snippets and insights into the young life of one of my favourite authors directly from her. There are some great biographies and some wonderful fictional accounts but nothing is quite the same as reading the words written by the person themselves. I also loved it for the pictures, such as this…

I didn’t want ‘Growing Pains’ to end! I know some of it is written from the benefit of hindsight, some of it will shroud the darker elements or highlight the brighter memories but I just loved spending time with Daphne reminiscing. Of course, she could have written it to make herself sound a certain way, but with a girl and woman like Daphne I don’t think that’s the case. Someone please reprint this book!

UPDATE: Thank you for letting me know that this is in print but under the name ‘Myself When Young: The Shaping Of A Writer’ – oops!

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The Loving Spirit – Daphne Du Maurier; Discovering Daphne Readalong #1

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.

Virago, paperback, 1931, fiction, 404 pages, borrowed from the library (can't seem to get in shops or second hand)

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?

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A Daphne Du Maurier Discovery

Though this might not be as earth shatteringly amazing as the woman who found some of Daphne Du Maurier’s lost short stories which became ‘The Doll’, I did have my own amazing Daphne Du Maurier moment the other day, well I think it’s amazing. It was all again when I was raking through the over flow of books which had been sent for an art installation. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted some taller books one of which was ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ by Daphne Du Maurier, which would have been a fabulous find in itself, this book itself was hiding some secrets…

I would have picked up ‘Vanishing Cornwell’ regardless because its Daphne nothing else needs to be said than that really. You all know I love her work. The fact this book is no longer in print and not so easy to get hold of was an added bonus. If you are like me you will love finding things in books, things previous owners used as book marks. Be they old postcards (possibly my favourite find, especially if they have a note), cinema tickets, shopping lists, etc I find it all fascinating. Well, whoever had this book before I ended up in a warehouse and then with me must have loved Daphne as much as I do as the book was filled with press cuttings about her…

Most of them are obituaries from all the broadsheet press dated April 20th 1989, the day after she died. There are also articles such as ‘Secret jealousy of the real Rebecca’ from the Observer on Sunday the 23rd of April 1989, ‘Estuary is a model for saving species’ from The Guardian June 8th 1996 which is all about ‘Frenchman’s Creek’, ‘Cornwall: A Tip of a Landscape’ which is a colour supplement from 1985 celebrating ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ as a book itself two decades on. My very favourite find though was ‘A Storyteller in a Vanishing Land’ from Living which is a huge piece on Du Maurier’s home Menabilly from 24th of May 1981… the article itself is older than me. Don’t you find that fascinating?  What more of a sign could I have that doing ‘Discovering Daphne’ was meant to be?

I do want to say here that all these books would have been pulped if they hadn’t be bought and used in the installation. So if you aren’t a fan of it let’s simply say worse things could have happened. Also bear in mind I do kind of know my books, though less my classics I admit, and I did take the very best stuff. Sorry, I just felt the need to mention that, back to things you find in books…

Sometimes I really do think you are meant to be in a certain place at a certain time and in this case I was meant to find this book and all it had in it. We can gloss over the other articles the reader had kept about the sale of a Victorian taxidermy museum can’t we? So I wondered have you ever found a book that you have been searching for ages, or didn’t even know you were searching for, and its suddenly there in front of you when you least expect it? What joyful things have you found in a book? What do you think of my find, is it fate?

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Discovering Daphne…

Finally after a good few weeks of plotting and organising things behind the scenes I can announce with joy, on what would have been her 104th Birthday, that myself and the lovely Polly of Novel Insights will be hosting the ‘Discovering Daphne’ season throughout the whole of October this year. Polly and I are both huge fans of Daphne and we are hoping that be you a Du Maurier novice or a full on fan you will be join us to discover/further discover a marvellous author who deserves much more attention and acclaim.

Why did we decide on October? Well it’s the perfect Daphne reading time of year. As you may spot from my review of ‘The Doll’ (a newly published collection of some of her earlier work which had be thought lost) there is something about Daphne Du Maurier’s writing that makes you want to curl up in a big comfy chair by the fire and be ever so slightly chilled and thrilled all at once, and October is a month that has that feeling doesn’t it? We also wanted to give you plenty of notice so you could join in (big thanks to Thomas of My Porch for creating some wonderful buttons for us by the way) with it all…

  

So what’s the plan? Well when we say the whole of October we actually mean the first week from the 1st – 9th of October 2011 and will kick of with the first of five optional (though we hope you join in with them all) Daphne read-a-longs, and where better to start than the very beginning of her career with her first novel ‘The Loving Spirit’ and on the 9th a fictionalised biography of her great-great grandmother ‘Mary Anne’ a tale so wonderful its hard to believe its actually true. Around these titles will be  a full week of various posts on other Du Maurier novels, reviews of books that have been inspired by her, and constant updates of what other people (aka YOU) have been reading and thinking, plus giveaways and competitions before the final three read-a-longs…

  • Sunday 16th October: ‘The House on the Strand’ – speculative time-travelling Daphne showing how versatile she is.
  • Sunday 23rd October: Don’t Look Now & Other Stories’ – a collection of Daphne’s short stories which are always wonderful and rather dark.
  • Sunday 30th October: ‘Rebecca’ – if you have read it before or if you haven’t already, we will be discussing possibly the most famous of Daphne’s novels which should prove a perfect way to end the season.

Blimey, that should make for plenty of fun and fabulous reading and discussions for one month don’t you think? I have created a Discovering Daphne’ page on the site for you to return to should you wish.

We really hope you are going to be joining in all over the world… So much so that to start off the whole event (and make Friday the 13th lucky for two of you) with the help of Daphne’s publishers Virago in the UK, we have a set of all the read-a-long novels to giveaway each. So if you want to be off to a wonderful head start with ‘The Loving Spirit’, ‘Mary Anne’, ‘The House on the Strand’ and ‘Rebecca’ then all you need to do is tell us which Daphne Du Maurier you haven’t read yet you would most like to and why? Hopefully you will be reading an extra Daphne book during the season too. You have until the 20th, and if you want to double your chances of winning pop to Novel Insights and do the same there. These parcels can go global so do enter wherever in the world you are. Good luck, ooh I am excited, and let us know what you think of the Discovering Daphne season and do feel free to spread the word.

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