Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier is one of my top five favourite books. I have re-read it once a year since I was about 16 which means that I've read it more times than I am willing to admit here. Yet as entranced as I have always been with Rebecca, and Maximilian and the young Mrs. de Winter, I had never been tempted to read anything else by Du Maurier until recently. What prompted my long overdue interest was an email from Little, Brown who have re-released Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek with some gorgeous new covers and who were wondering if I'd like one to review. It seemed like the thing to do. So here we are, part of the Du Maurier blog tour. I urge you to check out all the stops on this one as, rather than just focussing on one book, it's focussing on several and each one is a classic. I know this because, having read Frenchman's Creek (thanks to Little, Brown) I sought out and read all three (including Rebecca. Again)....
Daphne Du Maurier
Little, Brown 2015
Dona - the Lady St. Columb - is entirely fed up with the tedium and hypocrisy of city life under the reign of Charles II. Being a woman who knows her own mind, she ups and leaves (kids in tow) to spend time in her husbands long abandoned Cornish estate, Navron. Rather than finding the house a dusty haven, however, she finds it inhabited by Jean-Benoit Aubery - a French pirate of disrepute, who has been holding the entire Cornish coast to ransom with his dastardly companions. Aubery, however (like all the best pirates), turns out to be imbued with a shrewd wit and undeniable charm and Dona soon finds herself, entirely understandably, under his spell. Shenanigans ensue.
Ah, pirates! Don't you just love them? There are surely few stories which would not benefit from a pirate thrown in for extra flavour. And Aubery is up there with my favourites. Move over Jack Sparrow, move over Long John Silver - Jean-Benoit is where it's at. Reckless, handsome and entirely tempting it's easy to see why one might run away to sea with him. Aubery makes escape from the mundanities of everyday life seem utterly possible, easy even, and as a reader for whom literature itself is a great escape, he is a hugely appealing character.
It is his offer of a better, more exciting, less dutiful life that seems to be what appeals to Dona, also. Married young to a kind yet far artless husband, Dona is desperate for something different. In taking her reluctant children to Navron she grants them a childhood far more innocent and fun-filled than any on offer in the city but her awareness that freedom of this sort is short-lived is tangible and Frenchman's Creek tells the story of her one grasp at living a life unencumbered by obligation. What makes her such a brilliant protagonist is the juxtaposition of her impulsivity and adventurous spirit up against her sure and certain knowledge that any adventure will surely be temporary. She's a joy to read.
As with Rebecca, there is a languid quality to Du Maurier's prose that belies the adventure at the heart of this novel. Her storytelling is dreamlike, Navron a place of endless sunshine and hidden treasure, billowing romance and seaswept kisses all underpinned by the knowledge that real life is just out of sight and inescapable. This style of writing, combined with such poigniancy leaves readers with a novel that is at once a romance, an adventure and a coming of age story to be enjoyed by all. For those of you yet to be convinced, it should be noted that it is set in Cornwall. Yes, THAT Cornwall! Where handsome young men sheer the verges in their pants! Also, it is entirely acceptable to envision Aubery as looking EXACTLY like the Dread Pirate Roberts. Or not. As you wish. Either way, pick up Frenchman's Creek. Hell, pick up all the re-released titles because each is equally good and will improve the looks of your bookshelves no end and you can find our more about them all by taking a peek at the other stops on the Du Maurier tour. Happy reading.