Smugglers, drunks, horse thieves and abusive husbands
This is the second book I have reviewed by Daphne Du Murier this year. I read Rebecca back in March and absolutely loved it. The wonderful mix of gothic style mixed with social commentary was a great introduction to Du Maurier’s style and I eagerly anticipated reading more. I had been recommended Jamaica Inn and Frenchman’s Creek by various friends and family members, so when I saw a copy of the former in my local book shop I pounced on it ready to be submerged once again. Unfortunately I was left somewhat disappointed. Whilst the book is good and well worth a read it lacked the magic of Rebecca for me and left me with a slightly sour aftertaste.
Jamaica Inn tells the story of Mary Yellan. When her mother dies Mary goes to live with her aunt Patience and her aunts husband Joss Merlyn. She is shocked to see the once joyful Patience now cowering before her husband who’s violent temperament and lengthy bouts of drinking cause a feeling of ill will and evil to filter into the Inn they have bought. Over time Mary realises that there is a reason no one stays at Jamaica Inn. There’s a reason that the few times people come here they are tramps, vagabonds and trouble makers. Dark deeds are being carried out at Jamaica Inn and for the sake of her aunt, Mary decides to fight against them.
One of the things I loved about Jamaica Inn is the gothic style that made Du Maurier such an inspirational writer. The starting scene, as mentioned by far greater critics than I, is straight out of a Shelley or Stoker novel. A horse drawn carriage ploughing through the rain on a windswept moor, heading to a desolate and isolated location. It’s descriptive beauty to read and puts me in mind of many horror stories that have come since, Salems Lot for instance, that have used the same style. It is clear that Du Maurier is younger in her style during Jamaica Inn than with Rebecca but it’s slight lack of polish doesn’t distract from the wonderful settings she creates.
What let me down with this book was with some of the Characters and their actions. They either seemed to be almost caricatures of real people or, if they were well written and strong, their actions would go against everything you thought of them. Joss Merlyn is one of the primary antagonists of this story and seems like he could have been pulled from any B movie horror tale. His seven foot tall stature and attempts to intimidate Mary come across as less Dickensian and more Mel Brooks. Mary herself is well written and strong throughout but enters into a romance with a man she knows to be dangerous and will probable hurt her because she is drawn by her womanly impulses. After all He’s a man and she’s just a woman. The total contrast to this with her behaviour throughout the book jarred me at a point when I was quite engrossed and pulled me back to reality to think. Not exactly what one is looking for with a book of this nature.
There are wonderful things about this book. Joss Merlyn’s bloodied past coming back to him in his dreams echoes Du Maurier’s real life as her husband Frankie was a war hero who would reportedly wake screaming in the night. Mary’s overall defiance makes her a wonderful character and the setting on the Cornish moor’s is perfect for a tale of smuggling and wreckers. It has also given me one of my favourite insults. “ your conceit more than makes up for your lack of other attributes.” You can’t get much more sassy than that.
So, who should read this book? Any gothic novel fans should give this one a go. If you are Cornish born and bred or have spent time there I would again recommend reading this as it will easily conjure up images of home. If you’ve never read Du Maurier then I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one. It’s good but Rebecca far outstrips it in my opinion. Frenchman’s creek will be next on my list. It will be interesting to see how it shapes up.