Review: My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

034 - My Cousin Rachel

Rating – 5*

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you will know of my unyielding love of Daphne du Maurier. She’s probably my favourite author of all time. This is one of the few of her books that I have read more than once, though my first – and only previous read – was at least 6 years ago! As a result, rereading this was like reading a whole new book and I absolutely loved it.

Our narrator, Philip, was orphaned at a young age and grew up with his Uncle Ambrose running a family farm on the Cornish coast. Due to his ailing health as he ages, Ambrose spends Winter abroad and it is one Winter, in Florence, that he meets Rachel. From there, we end up back in Cornwall and we go down a path of suspicion, intrigue, and quite honestly some madness.

I don’t want to give too much away, because the beauty of du Maurier’s work is the mystery and the intrigue that’s there, it’s that what keeps you turning the pages. Come the end, you still don’t really know what happened and it is up to you as a reader to decide what the truth is. Daphne du Maurier masters the unreliable, and at times dislikeable, narrator in this book. Philip is misogynistic, he is rash and harsh at times but throughout it all I did feel empathy for him and I did connect with him.

The titular character, much like in Rebecca, remains a bit of an enigma. Even at the end you never know her true motives, what she’s done, what she is intending to do. She is described as petite and delicate, but she can command a room better than any of the men in this book! At times I loved her, at times I loathed her, and by the end of the book I still don’t know which of those feelings is overriding.

I never thought I’d say this, but I may have enjoyed this more than Rebecca. Throughout the entirety of the novel there is tension and suspense which I have loved in all of du Maurier’s work. The ambiguity is also there, which is something I felt was mastered in this book compared to Rebecca – which while good did have undertones which if you look hard enough point you in the right direction. As a reader I was constantly swaying between theories, I didn’t know which characters to believe, which to doubt and that was happening throughout the book on the basis of individual sentences and intonations.

Honestly, this book is a masterpiece from my point of view. I’m maybe a bit bias in that du Maurier can rarely do wrong in my eyes, but this book had me on tenterhooks and I read it in 2 sittings. I could have read it in one, had I not needed to sleep. I adored this – and it has me so excited to finish reading du Maurier’s bibliography.

Review: The King’s General – Daphne du Maurier


Rating – 4*

I picked this book up entirely on a whim, I hadn’t read any du Maurier in a while and I decided it was time to remedy that as, one of my many reading goals, is to finish reading her entire bibliography. I went in to this knowing nothing, I didn’t even read the blurb I just pulled the first du Maurier off of my shelf that I hadn’t read and, frankly, that was a very good decision.

Unlike most of her other novels I have read, this is a piece of historical fiction. And it’s one with a very interesting origin. It’s set in Cornwall, as most of her books are, and progresses through the Civil War – a period of history I know very little about. Reading the authors note at the end is something I rarely do, but in this case I think it adds so much to the story – and I understand why du Maurier was so inspired to write this novel because of it.

du Maurier never shies away from an interesting, possibly controversial, protagonist. Honor is no exception to this. It’s the 1640s and she does not give a damn about society and convention, and I loved her for it. She refuses to marry the man her family pick for her, and then flaunts convention by not marrying the man she loves. She has spirit about her, and doesn’t let any limitations get in her way. Possibly the thing that surprised me most about this book is the way that disability is represented – we as readers know that it is there, but it isn’t something that imposes many limits. Of course it is a bit dated, but at the same time thinking about when this book was written, and also when it was set, it’s a pretty positive representation which always wins some points for me!

As with most of du Maurier’s writing, there is incredible atmosphere built up here. There is suspense, mystery and intrigue. There are hidden rooms, and dubious women and it is just everything I love about du Maurier. If that sounds good to you, read this.

It isn’t her best book, but it’s one I read in a day. I found myself hooked, I didn’t want to put it down, so I just kept reading. I haven’t done that with a book for a long time, so it’s high praise indeed! For someone new to du Maurier, this would be a good place to go, especially if you’re a fan of historical novels.

Review: Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne du Maurier

don't look nowThis was, once again, an incredible collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier. It’s also actually the penultimate of her short story collections for me to read. Thankfully I do still have one left to read, which I didn’t think I did at the start of this book – I thought I had read them all. Needless to say, I savoured this over the entirety of the month of December thinking it would be my last foray in to her short stories.

On the whole this was incredible, as with all of her short story collections. There were a couple in the collection that I didn’t click with quite as much but damn, this was good.

The stand out story has to be the first one, which sent chills down my spine when I read it. I kid you not. It starts out really mundane but then becomes really trippy and honestly it is so good. It was atmospheric and completely bizarre but so, so very du Maurier and I loved it.

I hate to repeat myself but her ability to build atmosphere is incredible and I just find myself so drawn in to her work and I just can’t tear myself away. There was a low point in the collection, there is always a weak story, but a weak short story by du Maurier is still an amazing story by the arbitrary standards I rate a book on!

Overall this was a 4* read. Alongside the titular story, my favourite was The Way of the Cross which was also a damn good read. I’d put this up there with my favourites, but honestly of her short story collections my favourite will always be The Rendezvous which I really ought to reread soon! I still have The Breaking Point to read – which I will have to get to in the near future! I’d recommend her short stories to anyone so seriously, give them a whirl!

Review: The House on the Strand – Daphne du Maurier

houseonthestrandI love Daphne du Maurier. Absolutely love her. Every book I read by her just confirms that fact more and more. This is possibly one of her best, it’s her penultimate novel and it is just incredible. A lot of people disagree with that sentiment, however. All I will say is it was definitely the perfect October read!

The House on the Strand is an astounding novel. As nearly always with du Maurier, it has the backdrop of Cornwall but, unusually, this book is a bit sci-fi. Our protagonist, Dick Young, is spending the summer at the family home of his friend, and biophysicist, Magnus Lane. The latter is conducting experiments with a drug which enables Dick to travel back in time to the 14th Century. There is never a dull moment and even when Dick is living up to his name, I empathised with him and was on his side; I opposed anyone who stood in his way even though he was a bit of a prick throughout most of the novel.

As always, her writing was fabulous. It was both easy to follow and intricate, it was vivid yet thick with atmosphere. Even though you’re back and forth from the 20th century and the 14th century, it’s not confusing instead it’s absolutely effortless. She creates such beautiful imagery and an intriguing plot an I just love her.

This is the best book of the month for me so far, the time of year I read it was a big help (cold, dark nights under a blanket!) and I would definitely recommend this to any fan of du Maurier’s writing. It’s probably not a place to start but definitely one to think about if you’ve read a few of her novels and/or short stories. Easily a 5* read!

Review: The Parasites – Daphne du Maurier

the-parasitesThe Parasites is one of du Maurier’s lesser known works. It is significantly different to her other works that I have read, it’s much more realistic and there isn’t as much of the gothic influence in it – at least not obviously. Once again, I have to say I’m glad that I am being a completist with du Maurier’s work because I think this would have been a book I ordinarily overlooked.

It follows the story of three siblings, well, sort of. Maria and Niall are step siblings and Celia, their half sister. They’re a product of famous singer and an even more famous dancer. It’s mostly a story told in retrospect, as in the first chapter Maria’s husband calls the siblings parasites and from there we delve in to their mutual past as they try to understand why they are parasites. While this isn’t so heavy on plot, it is one of the best character studies I have read in a long time. The three siblings are so symbiotic it’s both interesting and disturbing.

This is a very ambiguous book, with absolutely detestable characters but I found myself loving it because of the way it was written. The novel itself is told from the mutual ‘we’ perspective, never quite certain which one of them is narrating because they’re all so intertwined. As with all of her other books, this is written flawlessly and the past and present are seamlessly flipped between. I don’t often like a book with characters I hate but, this was du Maurier and it was done so well and so intentionally that I rather liked this change from the norm.

Overall I think this is a solid 4/5, it is by no means perfect and I didn’t much care for the ending but I really liked this interlude in my reading of her works because it is so very different to all the others in her bibliography that I have read. Once I got in to it I read it quite quickly, as I usually do with a du Maurier. I really can’t get enough of this woman’s writing and to think I’m almost at the half way stage of her bibliography is heartbreaking – the next du Maurier can’t come soon enough!

Review: The Doll: Short Stories – Daphne du Maurier

The DollA readathon just isn’t complete without a smattering of du Maurier. I haven’t read any du Maurier in a while – though I’m trying to work my way through her bibliography there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Though, I always find her short story collections a good addition to any readathon!

The Doll is a collection of her early works – written in the late 20s and early 30s in the majority – some predate her first novel. While it’s clear to tell this is early work, it is by no means awful. Her early work is very much a good indication of what is to come in her career, all her signature tropes are there and ultimately this is great. As always, it is her use of atmosphere which is prominent and, in my opinion, the most wonderful aspect of her writing.

There is great variety in the types of stories that are present in this collection; an overarching theme is romance I think, but the darker side of it. There is a lot of themes that are then further explored in some of her full-length novels (or at least the few that I have read) such as jealousy. I liked seeing that early ‘thought process’ that she clearly started within a short story format.

Some of these did feel ‘half-baked’ on the plot side of things, and it’s a good judge of what was to come from her writing. It isn’t a short story collection that I would recommend to a friend who wasn’t either familiar with du Maurier’s writing and wanted to explore her bibliography more or wasn’t all that familiar with the short story ‘genre’ (if you can call it a genre in it’s own right). It is definitely more for the du Maurier ‘completist’ than a place to start with her writing. It is a lot more varied, there is a lot more character studies, but it was good.

As for a favourite, I don’t really have one but it is the titular story that has stuck with me through reading this collection. It was the second story. It was weird. When it was written, it must have caused scandal. It was bold and showed a woman as “sexually immoral”. It is told to us through a letter; while the author is unknown, it is understood that it is a confession of sorts about a peculiar situation about a woman the writer of the letter was involved with who had a fetish for a doll. I can see why it was ‘lost’; I don’t think, back in the 1920s this would have been published, especially by a woman, about a woman! It was definitely one of the more explored and experimental of the collection and while reading it I couldn’t help but be linking things to Rebecca because it had that overall tone. I think it’s probably why it has stuck with me!

It was not an awful collection, but I don’t feel it was her best (I would say possibly The Rendezvous is her best collection, or at least the one I have fondest memories of reading, followed by The Birds very close behind!) It was definitely a good indication of where her career was heading and reading these stories was really a highlight in me reading her bibliograpgy, there was just so much that was good in these and seeing the potential that was there was really great as a du Maurier completist! This was her beginning; it wasn’t perfect, but I really I loved reading it. It’s a high 3/5 for these as some were much better than others!

Review: Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne du Maurier

frenchmanscreekSo this month saw me pick up another du Maurier novel. I’ve had a couple of months off from reading du Maurier but I felt the urge to be back in Cornwall and she is, obviously, the Queen of Cornish Literature. And also, this book contains pirates. That did pretty much sell it to me.

The story follows Dona, a London socialite who is fed up of her lifestyle in the City and moves down to Cornwall – away from her husband – to start afresh. Soon after her arrival in this sleepy Cornish coastal village, she learns that it is plagued by pirates – one Frenchman in particular. Naturally, this appeals at first to her sense of adventure. Their paths do of course cross and what goes on from there you can only imagine.

This was a slow start. I honestly thought I was going to have to admit defeat and call it a day with this very early on because I just wasn’t feeling it. I only persevered because, well, it’s du Maurier and I will always try with her novels because even if the plot lacks, the prose is beautiful and sometimes that makes up for it. For me, this picked up at around the 50 page mark, though it wasn’t un-put-down-able it was perfectly readable and I did enjoy it for the most part from there on out. I snuggled up and read the majority of what was remaining in only a couple of sittings.

Daphne du Maurier is a literary genius. I say it every time. How she captures atmosphere and how she just makes me lose myself in a book is incredible. Those questions in which you’re asked “who would you have at a dinner table?” I would pick her in a heartbeat.

“And all this, she thought, is only momentary, is only a fragment in time that will never come again, for yesterday already belongs to the past and is ours no longer, and tomorrow is an unknown thing that may be hostile. This is our day, our moment, the sun belongs to us, and the wind, and the sea, and the men for’ard there singing on the deck. This day is forever a day to be held and cherished, because in it we shall have lived, and loved, and nothing else matters but that in this world of our own making to which we have escaped.”

Once again, it’s a 4/5 for du Maurier. This book, while a bit of a struggle for me to get on with, was wonderful.

Review: Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier

JamaicaInnI didn’t think I had read this book before, but apparently I have! According to goodreads I read this in 2010 but I genuinely couldn’t remember it. The beginning was familiar, but aside from that it was like I was reading it for the first time! Does it count as a reread if you have forgotten the entire plot?

Firstly, I’m going to be vain and just say how beautiful the Virago Designer Classic is for this. A beautiful cover does make a book that bit more enjoyable, that is for certain.

The story is about Mary Yellan, who after her mother passes away goes to live – at her mothers request – with her aunt. But her mother had no idea of her sisters life and so, young Mary finds herself living with her aunt Patience and her husband, Joss, at Jamaica Inn.

As always, du Maurier’s writing is sublime. The atmosphere she created in this was just boggling. I cannot ever compliment her atmospherics enough – as anyone who reads these reviews will notice. Actually, going back and reading my review from 2010 I said that the atmosphere was good but didn’t quite match up to Rebecca. I lied, or was just young and an idiot, because the atmospherics in this book are just incomparable. Rebecca is great, it will be the bookish love of my life, but this book was just that little bit darker, that little bit ‘foggier’ with a little more mystery.

However, it isn’t a 5/5 from me. Even though I’d read this before, I couldn’t remember where it ended up and… while it was good the ending was a disappointment from all the building up that had been done prior to it. The plot was quite simplistic, the romance was rushed and somewhat out of character and… yes. Ultimately this is a 4/5 and that is primarily because of the writing, the plot itself is quite weak!

Review: I’ll Never Be Young Again – Daphne du Maurier

INBYAI love Daphne du Maurier. Anyone who has followed this blog or knows me in any way knows I love this woman. This book however is one of the weaker ones of hers that I have read. It’s by no means awful, it’s a really good book it’s just not up to the strength of her better known books or even her first novel which I reviewed recently.

The opening chapter is just wonderful; I thought I was in for a treat. We open with our narrator standing on a bridge, ready to jump. But it just didn’t really take flight for me. Richard, the narrator, is insufferable. While du Maurier captured the male voice almost perfectly, I found him intolerable to read through.

The point of this book is, essentially, a coming of age novel. We follow Richard from this broken shell of a boy, who is melodramatic and has a lot of growing up to do, through an adventure that sees him become a man. Ultimately this was probably my problem as I, on the whole, cannot stand a coming of age story. There are few that I have enjoyed and it’s just a personal taste

As always though, du Maurier’s writing was exquisite. She has such a dreamlike quality to her writing and knows how to make an atmosphere work. She wrote quite powerfully through first person narration too, which is something that I often have difficulty getting in to. There are also some vivid descriptions of the mountains and fjords of Norway and the other places that the characters visit, particularly Paris with its cafés and boulevards – the only thing I can compare this level of description to is that of the short story Monte Vista in her collection The Birds – actually I felt there were a number of parallels between them but maybe that’s just me!

Anyway, this is by far not her strongest work that I have read but it is by no means awful. It isn’t a book I would suggest for a new reader of du Maurier to begin with but for someone who has read a few of her books and wants to explore her lesser known works, this is a good one. A solid 3/5!

Review: The Birds & Other Stories – Daphne du Maurier

thebirdsThis is the second du Maurier I’ve read this week. As expected she didn’t disappoint. I love her novels, but I think her short stories are equally as compelling. Previously I’ve read The Rendezvous and Other Stories which, though the least known of her short story collections, I really enjoyed and actually gave 5/5 so I went in to this – her most well known collection – with high expectations.

I loved it. As I expected. I loved it. There were only 6 stories and, truthfully, they were probably more novellas than a short story. They were all well fleshed out, had the signature du Maurier feel to them, the characters were superb as I’ve come to expect and ultimately, it was a fantastic collection. I was going to just do an overview but, for the sake of completeness, I’ve decided to review each story independently.

The titular story features first and The Birds is a story about a man who is plagued by evil birds. In this copy it was around 40 pages and it revolves around this man’s attempt to save his family from these evil birds. Really, it’s quite bizarre but amid all of the screeching and aggressive window-pecking it feels really intense. It was quite psychological as well, actually. I enjoyed it, I’m probably now going to be paranoid when a bird looks at me but I really enjoyed it.

Monte Verià takes up practically a third of the book. The story itself is an odd one – there is a lot of depth and suspense there and it only really makes sense once it’s fully read. Many people have said that it was too long – I agree in some respects, it was quite long and maybe it could have done with a bit of editing but her writing is just so wonderfully readable that I couldn’t put this one down. The premise is again a little weird and our narrator for this is really not the main character but the eyes through which we see the story. Essentially our unnamed narrator tells the story of his friend Victor and his wife Anna. Victor and Anna go on holiday and climb a mountain and something peculiar happens while up the mountain… I really loved this one actually. The ending was a little “meh” but on the whole this was a really good story.

The Apple Tree was a peculiar one. It follows a man who has recently been widowed who is embracing the freedom that has come from it and he notices the apple trees in the garden; one reminding him of his wife and the other reminding him of the young farm girl he once kissed. I don’t really know what I was reading when I read this, it was completely bizarre and at points I did find it hard to follow. I don’t think this was du Maurier at her best; it was good and her writing was sublime as always but it wasn’t her best.

Next up was The Little Photographer and truthfully the only thing that kept me reading this was her writing. The plot was quite lacking and the protagonist was shallow and it just dragged. If it was anyone else I probably wouldn’t have even finished it but it was du Maurier and I felt obliged. There was a slight twist at the end that almost redeemed it but… It stell felt like it was lacking something.

Kiss Me Again, Stranger is one I feel could have actually been developed more. It was a little frustrating, the narrator wasn’t particularly likeable for me but I feel that the girl could definitely have had a novel to herself. I really loved the twist in this one but, as I said, it could have done with more.

Finally there was The Old Man which is the shortest story of the collection. This was a bit nondescript initially but the ending, oh the ending. It was something else. It really just proves how wonderful a writer du Maurier is, to have to think one thing and twist it completely with 3 sentences. It’s one I don’t want to speak much about as at only 10 pages there’s not much to tell but it did make me go back and read it again with the end in mind.

Ultimately this was a good collection, the writing here is just sublime and while the stories themselves were a bit hit and miss it’s hard to not like this! I prefer her novels, I actually find them more well paced but her short stories are just little flashes of genius and I’m looking forward to the other 3 collections I have yet to read! 4/5