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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