Category Archives: Discovering Daphne

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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Daphne Du Maurier on The First Tuesday Book Club…

It seems, if unintentionally, that Polly and I chose the perfect month to do our ‘Discovering Daphne’ season as now, after The Guardian Reading Group have started reading ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’, the wonderful First Tuesday Book Club have now covered ‘Rebecca’ in their latest show which aired last week.

I had no idea before I started watching it this weekend, between babysitting two three year olds, that this was one of this months choices, I was thrilled, though I was also nervous about whether (one of my current book loving icons) Marieke Hardy would love it or not. I waited with baited breath… Well, she didn’t let me down when she came out with this, which I think is a wonderful description.  ‘I think the book is perfect… it’s just a big juicy over ripe plum… its bursting out of its flesh and dribbling down your chin as you read and what a great sticky glorious mess to end up in when you finished it.’ Oh Marieke, you are a legend!

The discussion of it being ‘woman’s literature’ came up as Kate Morton, who had chosen the novel, said it was and that was positive yet Thomas Keneally said what slightly annoyed him, though he thought it was brilliantly written for ‘a mass market novel’, it had a ‘breathiness’ which makes it nothing more than a ‘romance’. It then turns to a discussion of whether it is a sexless or sexy book? You should watch it to see the discussion and you can here.  Let me know your thoughts.

We will be talking about ‘Rebecca’, which I think (just like Marieke) is a perfect book, in three weeks time you can see the schedule for all the Daphne reads we are doing here. Please do discover Daphne, you won’t be disappointed.

Oh and my review of ‘Mary Anne’ is coming… honest.

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Daphne Du Maurier; Did These Covers Help or Hinder…

One of the things that annoyed me the more I read Daphne Du Maurier was the fact people seemed to label her as a romance novelist. However when I plucked, and dusted off, my copies of ‘Mary Anne’ (which we will be discussing in more detail tomorrow) and ‘Rebecca’ (the very copy below was my first Daphne purchase and I will be re-reading it for the ‘Discovering Daphne’ finale) I looked at the covers, which were originally from the 1970s when there was a slight Daphne resurgence, and I could see why they might have been seen as just ‘romance novels’…

Retro fabulous, or tacky romance?

Now of course I think that these covers were fabulous and, as you can see from my ‘Why I Love Daphne’ post if, it was the wonderfully vampy, dramatic and dare I say camp covers that had me grabbing them in second hand bookshops. Would I have bought them at the time (let’s gloss over the fact that I wasn’t born when these came out)? The answer is probably not.

Why? Well, I wouldn’t have thought that they were of any particular literary merit and so I can completely understand why many other people might have looked at them and thought ‘ooh no I don’t think so’, I can also see how during that era she started to be bought in bulk by people who were reading Mills and Boon. It’s a difficult thing to get a cover right as, I am sure, we have discussed on Savidge Reads. It seems a shame that people really built up and idea of Daphne based on those covers back then, but we do all judge books based on the cover – even if we don’t like to admit it.

Now, over thirty years on, I want the whole set of these Pan editions from the mid-70’s because of their wonderful novel and rather novelty retro covers, they are fabulous. Like Daphne! So maybe people will find these wonderful old copies, along with the new sultry covers from Virago, and discover just what a wonderful, and indeed fabulous, writer Daphne was.

What’s your thought on these book covers, would these classic/retro covers put you off trying Daphne or do they appeal?

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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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