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Old 21st Dec 2007, 12:55   #11
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Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

So, I haven’t got my copy here to give you extracts but amner’s inclusion of that first descriptive paragraph provides an excellent example of the quality of the writing within this ‘classic novel’. And the writing was great; I loved the atmosphere it evoked: the heady heat of a late summer’s day, the scent of undergrowth or dying flowers, or an old wardrobe and unworn clothes. All of these things, and the house Manderlay were amazing. I also really liked the way du Maurier evoked character. Beatrice the sister, although only appearing in a few places was absolutely recognisable, and this stood for many other of the personalities right down to tourists visiting the bay for a day or the boorish local Bishop’s wife who might only have had half a page to themselves.

The skill with which the characters were drawn also, of course, stands for the ever un-named second Mrs de Winter and her nemesis Mrs Danvers, the tension between these two was palpable, and thoroughly uncomfortable. Mrs Danvers behind half closed shutters in the west wing gave me shivers.

Mrs de Winter 2 was also written well, her niave, young inexperienced persona was obvious, it was consistent and it annoyed the hell out of me! The blurb on the back of my copy refers to this being the book that after Jane Eyre best shows a young woman gaining a depth of ‘Character’ and finding herself by the end of the book; phooee if you ask me. She’s a drip at the start, she frets and worries and obsesses through the middle, and at the end instead of stepping up to the mark (well, she does a bit) she’s still a drip and she and her husband retire into some ex-pat community to ignore all the events that have befallen them. She doesn’t get any stronger, she doesn’t concquer her fear, she doesn’t go through the adversity and gain a moral strength she’s still, at the end of the book, fearful of her husband’s thoughts, fearful of provoking them within herself and still a drip. Humph.

I had hoped that my dislike of this single character wouldn’t spoil my appreciation of the book, after all it is beautifully written and I dislike characters in other books without that spoiling my enjoyment of the book – Nedra in Salter’s Light Years for example – but not here. I think it’s to do with that lack of development of du Marurier’s principal character on which so much hangs here. I’m also a little unclear on how the whole fire starts – hadn’t Mrs Danvers left Manderlay earlier in the day? A minor point, which doesn’t really matter, although it seemed a little rushed.

Now, I will always empathise more with the Pride and Prejudice Lizzies of this world, rather than with the Mrs de Winters, that’s just me, but my meagre award for Rebecca comes because not because it’s not well written in terms of character or setting, but because it didn’t seem to grow. Event’s happen, but that’s not enough, the event’s only seemed to touch our young protagonist in the lightest of ways and she ends up where she started, and that didn’t satisfy me at all.
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Old 15th Apr 2009, 17:03   #12
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Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

I'm reading more du Maurier stories, this time selected and introduced by Patrick McGrath and published by NYRB Classics. The title again is Don't Look Now, though that's the only story in common with the Penguin Modern Classics edition. (The Penguin volume, as I guessed above, is a book of stories published in 1971, rather than a selected best-of. Don't Look Now was the US title on its original publication, the UK version being called Not After Midnight, after the second story in the book.)

I'm halfway through so far and it's a selection of varying quality. Highlight is 'The Birds', the source of Hitchcock's film, and better in written form: it's Wyndhamesque, bleak, apocalyptic and really quite frightening. McGrath in his intro calls it "a starting point in the popularisation of an entire genre of environmental-catastrophe narratives" - or perhaps not quite the starting point, as it was published a year after The Day of the Triffids.

Other stories are weaker. 'Split Second' spends most of its 55 pages treading water so that the characters can gradually catch up to what the reader had worked out early on (in fact they never do quite catch up). Same goes for 'Escort', a moment of crisis on a wartime ship. In a way this playing for time is a necessary motif of suspense stories - the slow building of atmosphere is a necessary element of such work, and in that sense requires a little length to get going - but the problem is expectations. The sort of supernatural or sci-fi elements that arise here might be surprising in a story read out of the blue, here we know that in a du Maurier story that sort of thing is de rigueur, and so I just kept thinking, 'Get on with it!'

However the story 'Kiss Me Again, Stranger', did surprise me by having a twist which was not the one I expected, and I have high hopes for the next story, 'The Blue Lenses', which McGrath praises in the introduction. But really, if these are the very best of du Maurier's short fiction, I won't be investigating much further.
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Old 15th Apr 2009, 17:13   #13
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Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

I've long wanted to read her, especially since I put together that the same mind came up with the ideas behind the films The Birds and Don't Look Now. She must be my kind of writer, but I just haven't taken the plunge. I love your description of her original "The Birds". Must seek out.

And regarding the film version of Don't Look Now: It's a terrific movie, no question, but I really wish critics would stop giving Nicolas Roeg credit for that ending, when it was Du Maurier's invention.
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Old 30th Sep 2011, 15:17   #14
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Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

Having properly made some progress with My Cousin Rachel, I'm thoroughly enjoying it, I'd venture to say, rather more than I did Rebecca. The plot seems more pared back to the essentials, of a relationship where one party may have dark secrets and the other is desperately trying to ignore the possibility of that murky past. At the moment I have no idea whether things are as sinister as they appear, but the sense of foreboding and unease that DuMaurier seems able to sustain is fab, like that little flip of the stomach when you drive a touch too fast over a hump-backed bridge.
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Old 14th Feb 2015, 17:02   #15
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Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

I've just read The Scapegoat, which I think is my favourite Du Maurier so far. The protagonist, John is an academic whose field is French history, and we are introduced to him in France, yearning to find some kind of connection which will make him feel more alive, more at one with the lives he seems to be only able to witness passively. He encounters a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to himself, and thereafter follows a sequence of events which finds John thrown into a situation (which he ironically becomes committed to through his ridiculous English reserve) in which he is forced to commit to other human beings, to make emotional decisions, to take huge risks.

It's an involving exploration of human motivations and the things that prevent us diving headlong into experience; the struggle between what the individual wants (or think they want) and what they should do according to wider responsibilities. But more than that, it's a great human story that keeps the reader bowling along, needing to know what happens to John and what becomes of his Doppelganger. Great stuff.
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