Once again this year, Ali is hosting her Daphne du Maurier Reading Week – a fabulous opportunity for DDM fans to re-read beloved favourites, and for DDM newbies like me, to discover more of her writing.
My first DDM novel was Rebecca, which was my choice for last year’s reading week and I absolutely loved it. This year I picked Jamaica Inn.
I have long wanted to read this novel, mainly because I have visited the real Jamaica Inn in the past. We also have dear friends who live near the novel’s main Cornish setting of Bodmin Moor. So I am familiar with the terrain and have even climbed some of the peaks that are mentioned in the book – Roughtor particularly sticks in the mind.
It is clear right from the novel’s opening that it will be a page turner of the truly Gothic variety.
“It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a sizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four.”
Dun, dun, duuuuuuuunnnnnnnn…………………………
We find ourselves among a collection of unfortunate travellers, tossed around in a cold and leaky coach, itself like a menacing character setting the scene of battle for what is to come.
‘The very coach, which all the day had rocked [Mary Yellan] like a cradle, now held a note of menace in its creaks and groans. The wind tore at the roof, and the showers of rain, increasing in violence now there was no shelter from the hills, spat against the windows with new venom.
This is all such a contrast to Mary’s idyllic-sounding home of nearby Helford, where there were ‘green hills’ and ‘a gentle rain that…lost itself in the lush grass’. Mary has been forced to leave her birthplace following the recent death of her mother, to whom she made a promise to go and live with her Aunt Patience and her landlord husband (‘a great husk of a man’).
‘Whatever her welcome should be, her aunt was her own mother’s sister, and that was the one thing to remember. The old life lay behind – the dear, familiar farm and the shining Helford waters. Before her lay the future – and Jamaica Inn.’
What will Mary find when she reaches the Inn? Our fears for her grow when the coach stops to drop off passengers in Bodmin. The driver is surprised that Mary does not alight. On learning that she is bound for the eponymous inn, he tells her:
‘”Respectable folk don’t go to Jamaica any more….In the old days we used to water the horses there, and feed them, and go in for bit of a bite and drink. But we don’t stop there any more. We whip the horses past and wait for nothing, not till we get to Five Lanes, and then we don’t bide long.'”
And so the adventure is afoot. Why does Jamaica Inn have such a fearful reputation? Into what danger is Mary plunging? The reader’s heart pounds ever faster as Mary gets drawn in to a dark world of smuggling and murder.
It is a cracking read, packed full of thrilling menace and suspense. Du Maurier’s writing is both taught and lyrical. Her descriptions of the Inn and the surrounding landscape provide the perfect backdrop throughout. Her characters are believable and complex – the reader can never quite tell who to trust, although du Maurier cleverly arouses our suspicions, so that the tension is piled on ever more as the story progresses.
Overall, I am so glad finally to have read this book and once again this year find myself desperate to read more DDM. I am also determined not to get side tracked as I did last year, when I also finished my post brimming with plans to read more by and about du Maurier. I totally failed in that promise to myself, getting immediately side-tracked on to other reading. It’s good to have been set back on my intended course – thanks Ali! 🙂