Archive for the ‘Daphne du Maurier’ Category

the rendezvous other stories daphne du maurier 001The Rendezvous and other stories by Daphne du Maurier ~ 1980. This edition: Pan, 1981. Paperback. ISBN: 0-330-26554-7. 234 pages.

My rating: The first and last stories in this otherwise rather mild collection elevate my rating to an overall 7/10. Otherwise, probably not more than a 5, or maybe a 6. All are worth reading, but most are not quite top-of-the-line for this particular author.

In the Preface, the author briefly explains her inspirations, and mentions that these stories show her development as a writer. I think a nice addition to this collection would have been dates of writing or of original publication; this would have added much to my own enjoyment as a long-time Daphne du Maurier reader.

*****

Some excellent, some not so much in this 1980 collection of short stories from throughout the author’s long career. All are very well written; the “less excellent” ones are described as such only in comparison to this author’s absolutely brilliant “best”.

  • No Motive ~ Why would a sweet-natured, happily married, expectant mother fatally shoot herself ten minutes after cheerfully ordering new garden furniture? One of the longer stories in this collection, and nicely plotted out. 7/10.
  • Panic ~ A casual love affair goes terribly wrong. Fabulously atmospheric, but ultimately slight. The dénouement comes as no surprise. 5/10.
  • The Supreme Artist ~ An aging actor gives a most superb performance off stage, and comes abruptly to an intimation of his own mortality. 6/10.
  • Adieu Sagesse ~ Two men from the opposite ends of the social spectrum plot their escape from tedious lives. Loved this one; the right people “win”. 8/10.
  • Fairy Tale ~ A slight and unlikely snippet of a story of a ne’er-do-well husband and his adoring wife. “Fairy tale”, indeed! 3/10.
  • The Rendezvous ~ I expected much from the title story of this collection. A successful author who has spent his life in observation finally arranges an “experience” for himself, only to be disappointed at every turn. In general, well done. But I wanted something just a little bit more. 6/10.
  • La Sainte-Vierge ~ Innocence and corruption. A snippet of a story, but very evocative of both. 5/10.
  • Leading Lady ~ Cherchez la femme… Another theatrical setting. Daphne used her eyes and ears well when about the backstage world. 6/10.
  • Escort ~ A maritime ghost story set in World War II. It’s been done before, but this attempt is reasonably decent. Nice detail on board the ghost ship. 5/10.
  • The Lover ~ A damning portrait of a rather vicious “lady’s man”. Didn’t really go anywhere as a story. 4/10.
  • The Closing Door ~ A young man faces up to a dire diagnosis. His lover unknowingly twists the knife. No shortage of symbolic situation in this one; I suspect it is one of the earlier efforts of the author. 5/10.
  • Indiscretion ~ Be careful what you say and who you say it to. Three lives are changed by a single sentence. A mite too contrived for my full enjoyment. 4/10.
  • Angels and Archangels ~ Religion and hypocrisy. The hypocrites win. A bitter little tale. 5/10.
  • Split Second ~ This story is the definite high point of the book. A middle-aged woman goes out for a walk, and comes away from a brush with death to a very different world. Or does she? Brutally pathetic, and perfectly written. 9/10.

Here’s another assessment of this collection:

Savidge Reads – The Rendezvous and other stories

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Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon ~ 2009. Originally published as Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the dark side of Neverland in Great Britain, Chatto and Windus, 2008. This edition: Pegasus Books, 2009. Hardcover. ISBN: 333 pages.

My rating: This is tough. I think 4.5/10. It certainly held my interest, but I have some issues with how the author presented some of his more far-fetched speculations as fact, without any of the language needed to make it clear that some conclusions were very much fabricated by the biographer. Not “good science”, if you get my meaning. Extra points for the vast amount of research that obviously went into this project. Points off for the blatant speculation, sometimes admitted to by the author, that makes “truth” out of shreds of fact.

*****

This was a recent library loan, picked up on a whim because of the du Maurier reference. I hadn’t realized there was any sort of connection, so was quite intrigued by the subtitle. And oh my gosh – what a can of worms this turned out to be.

It’s on the library stack for return today, so this will be a very brief summary.

In short, the author, Piers Dudgeon, has detailed the secret (or maybe not so secret?) obsession by the esteemed and exceedingly successful J.M. Barrie for the family of Arthur Llewelyn Davies and his wife, the former Sylvia du Maurier, and especially their five sons: George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. Whether the attraction was merely that of fascination for a vibrant and beautiful family, or whether the eventual focus on the five young boys was more sinister in nature, there was a decidedly – how shall I put it? – “focussed” situation going on there. After Arthur’s death of cancer in 1907, Sylvia leaned heavily on the family friend Barrie; her own tragic death three years later left the five children, then aged approximately from seven to seventeen, under the guardianship of Barrie, who, as “Uncle Jimmy”, became even closer in the pre-existing relationship to something of a foster-father.

All of this is clearly documented and not particularly newsworthy, but Dudgeon goes deeply into speculation and conjecture here about Barrie’s infatuation with the Llewelyn Davies family and the du Mauriers. Aside from the predictable insinuations about pedophiliac tendencies in Barrie, something that I was aware of, having read numerous references over the years to his infatuation with the real-life model(s) of his never-aging creation Peter Pan, Dudgeon goes even further into the murky psychological waters, claiming a sort of extra-sensory perception and an ability for “ill-wishing” that spelled doom to anyone upon whom Barrie became fixated. Dudgeon openly implies that Barrie had a hand in the deaths of Arthur and Sylvia L-D, as well as in the suicide of one of the boys as a young man, the death in action of another in World War I, and the suicide of a third as a middle-aged man.

Dudgeon goes out even further on his shaky limb and seems to claim that Daphne du Maurier in particular was deeply influenced by Barrie’s role in her life, and that her books reflect his deep (claimed by Dudgeon) importance in her world. Barrie did indeed come into (occasional) quite close contact with Daphne in her younger years, but I feel that Dudgeon has strongly overstated his influence, seeking to justify his own obsession with the “demonization” of Barrie.

I can easily believe Barrie was a man of morbid and unhealthy obsessions, though the muted accusation of  pedophilia has been emphatically denied by the very people who should know, the Llewelyn Davies sons themselves.

All in all, a rather disturbing read, in more ways than one. I’m not sure how reliable Piers Dudgeon’s conclusions are, though much of his research is quite fascinating when viewed with a disinterested eye. I certainly can’t recommend this book as the definitive account of Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family, and definitely not as a Daphne du Maurier reference – I felt this was the most contrived part of the whole production. All I can say is that if you’re interested (and it is interesting to speculate and delve into Barrie’s dark world, behind the glitter of the stage productions) you should perhaps look into some more reviews – lots to choose from out in the cyberworld –  to get a clear idea of Dudgeon’s own infatuation with his theory, and then read away with an open mind.

A good place to start is here, the New York Times book review by Janet Maslin from October 25, 2009.

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Mrs. de Winter by Susan Hill ~ 1993. This edition: William Morrow & Co., 1993. First edition. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-688-12707-x. 349 pages.

My rating: 3.5/10.

This is a book for fans of du Maurier’s now classic, noire-romantic-suspense novel Rebecca; I suspect anyone else would be completely bemused. Would this be what is termed as “fan fiction”?

Mrs. de Winter started off reasonably promisingly, but quickly got tedious. Susan Hill was very conscientious about channeling du Maurier’s voice as preserved in Rebecca, but in my opinion the greatest weakness of the book is that she stuck to that voice too strongly, instead of taking the characters to the next level.

I give Hill credit for trying, hence the (generous) 3.5 rating, and it is obvious that she holds Rebecca in great esteem, but I found this sequel ultimately boring and very depressing – wait! – no! – not merely depressing – downright sad is a better description. It was also about two hundred pages too long for the content, and very wordy and repetitive. The plot was contrived and unbelievable, and the ending, quite frankly, was deeply disappointing.

Rebecca ended on a tragic note, too, but it was a fitting conclusion to what had come before, and is likely one of the reasons why the story is so highly regarded. I tend to agree with those who say that Rebecca is du Maurier’s masterpiece. It is very much a polished and completed piece of work, and decidedly a stand-alone book, and a sequel written by another author should then at least be creative and take us in a new direction – “What if?” This just didn’t happen here. And that’s really too bad, because from what I’ve heard, Susan Hill can write.

*****

Mrs. de Winter continues the story that du Maurier so teasingly but perfectly tied up in 1938 in Rebecca. Fifty-five years later that book is still so widely read and admired that a sequel by a contemporary author comes in for much discussion and is greeted with high hopes. Interesting and cleverly imagined sequels are occasionally created on the coattails of classic novels, but they are rare creatures. Sadly this particular attempt was, in my opinion, quite decidedly a “miss”.

In Susan Hill’s take, Maxim and the first person narrator, his second wife so famously left unnamed in Rebecca, have not seemed to grow or emotionally develop in the ten years subsequent to the burning of Manderley. If anything, they have degenerated.

At the close of Rebecca, the second Mrs. de Winter has found a new maturity and confidence and faces her future with fortitude and a certain stubborn grace. Maxim himself has become a much more likeable character as he unbends enough to confess his failings to his new wife; their marriage looks like it may actually work, having weathered the storm of the murdered first wife and the malicious Mrs. Danvers and her revengeful arson.

In Mrs. de Winter, Maxim comes across as a boring, immature, moody manic-depressive, and his wife as just plain pathetic: still dowdy and unsure of herself, and acting much younger than her age. No wonder Maxim walks all over her, in this re-interpretation, even more so than in the original – she’s a true “Kick-Me-Charlie”.

Spoiler alert, for both Rebecca and Mrs. de Winter. If you want to be surprised, stop reading now.

Mrs. de Winter starts with a funeral in England. We don’t immediately know who has died; we find out on page 20, after much long-winded scene-setting and flashbacks, that it is Maxim’s sister, Beatrice.

It is now ten years after the burning of Maxim’s family estate, Manderley. As those of you who have read Rebecca will remember, Maxim has been emotionally scarred apparently beyond recovery by the whole saga of first having murdered his lovely but secretly treacherous first wife, Rebecca, and then narrowly escaping justice. Rebecca’s death has been officially recorded as a suicide, and Rebecca’s devoted ex-nanny, Mrs. Danvers, has set fire to Maxim’s beloved house in revenge – she knows the truth. Maxim has confessed all to his young second wife, and she in turn has forgiven him everything in her relief at finding out that Maxim is not still in love with his first wife, as she has been mistakenly thinking all along. (Interesting that Maxim can quite calmly deal with being a murderer, but the loss of his palatial estate sends him over the final edge. Not the most admirable of characters, when one steps back for some perspective, to put a house ahead of a human life, but in the original he shows enough character to allow us to conditionally forgive his numerous sins.)

The two have gone to live in Europe, to escape all the apparent gossip that is being generated by the complicated tragedy. Though Maxim is widely viewed as a bereaved husband and not a murderer, he is such a sensitive type that even a whisper about Manderley or Rebecca apparently gives him the jim-jams. His second wife meekly caters to his neuroses.

As the sequel begins, the second World War has just ended. Maxim and second Mrs. de Winter have apparently spent the war years safely ensconced in Switzerland. Maxim has no intention of going back to England, even for his sister’s funeral, but Mrs. de Winter convinces him that he must. It seems that she is dreadfully homesick and welcomes the chance to return to her homeland, even if the reason is the pathetically tragic death of a beloved wife and mother.

They get there, see Beatrice buried, and are reluctant spectators to her widower Giles’ deep distress. There is a terribly disfigured war hero son about as well. For a while I thought that was going somewhere, but it was a dead-end – he is merely part of the background colour. A mysterious funeral wreath appears, seen by Mrs. de Winter alone – the card is signed with dead(!) Rebecca’s signature initial. Oh my! What could this mean?! The note is hidden, but naturally not destroyed – and we know that it’s going to cause trouble later. (Cue foreboding music.)

Maxim is ready to head back to Europe, but Mrs. de Winter begs to stay in England for a while. He half-heartedly agrees, but pouts enough so that his wife starts viewing him with a certain distaste. After all, she has been a willing silent partner in his great deception, and has put up with his moody behaviour these past ten years. All she really wants to do is find a quiet corner in England, settle down and have a few babies.

Many pages pass. Eventually Maxim surprises his wife with the news that he has bought her a small country house. La la la – life is looking up! Mrs. de Winter sneaks away to London to inquire of a gynecologist why she’s not getting pregnant, which is kind of a strange little side story because I thought the implication in the original story was that Maxim chose to remain childless, so I’d assumed they were actively practising some sort of birth control. There were condoms in the 1940s, were there not? Well, according to Ms. Hill, Mr. and Mrs. de Winter were unable to have children due to bad luck, not from human preventative measures. The doctor tells the Mrs. that she’ll get pregnant once she learns to relax and be happy, and she is so thrilled by this she prances straight off home intending to break the good news.

But wait! Suddenly there appears on the scene the wicked Jack Favell, Rebecca’s cousin, who immediately announces his intention to blackmail Mrs. de W. With what I’m not quite sure. (My attention was wandering a fair bit at this point.) So much for less stress! Darn, no baby for you, Mrs. Maxim. (Yes, I’m being very facetious. I was strongly annoyed at the author by this point, and no longer enjoying the book in any way, shape or form.)

More pages about this and that. Shades of the Manderley costume ball in the original book – there is a party. Jack Favell shows up but is shot down. (Figuratively, not literally. Luckily for Jack, Maxim doesn’t have a firearm handy, as he did when Rebecca annoyed him severely in her turn.) Mrs. Danvers also shows up, but is coldly dismissed by Maxim. After the party, Maxim is all sad and angsty. “It is justice!” he moans, and proceeds to exit the scene and drive fatally into a tree.

The ashes are scattered, predictably, into the ocean off the coast of Manderley.

The book is gently put down, contrary to inner impulse. It is, after all, a library book, and we must return it in good condition.

Ick. Ick. Ick. Ick. Ick.

Why did I think this would be a desirable read?

Not recommended.

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I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier ~ 1932. This edition: Sundial Press, 1941. Hardcover. 336 pages.

My rating: 8/10 for most of the writing – the woman could certainly put words together, though she falters here and there – see the last paragraphs of the book which I’ve included at the very end of this review – and 4/10 for the plot and characterizations. Averaged out, that makes 6/10, which is still too high, so I’m going to give it a 5/10. Brutal, I know, but it is that hard to read.

I wanted to like this book so much, and was so thrilled when I found it. It starts off so very well, but soon turns into a long, very slow motion (think frame by frame slow) train wreck. I no longer wonder why this title is one of the unremarked silent members of Daphne du Maurier’s otherwise mostly stellar bibliography.

If it were anyone else but Dame Daphne, I would have pitched it about a quarter through, if not sooner. As it was, it took me a very, very long time to work my way through it. Only its nagging presence on my “What I’m Reading” sidebar kept me coming back for more punishment.

*****

The book, Daphne’s second (the first is The Loving Spirit, which I know I have somewhere but seem to remember having set aside many years ago as “unreadable” as well – I need to find it to refresh memory) was published when she was only twenty-four, so we have to give allowances for that. From my own advanced age – okay, I’m not that old, but twenty-four is half a lifetime away for me now – a book written by a twenty-four year old and titled I’ll Never Be Young Again is somehow more than a little ironic.

After finishing, I sat for a while thinking, “Was it the book or was it me? Did I just not get it?” So I did what I always do in cases such as this – I googled other bloggers’ reviews. And look what I found! I’m not alone! Someone else thought the very same thing. (Though she only gave it a 4/10. Ha! – take that, Doleful Dick, you whingy whiner.)

Therefore I have totally copped out and shamelessly stolen this review from Books I Done Read  (tagline: Reading books so you don’t have to) which is a totally awesome, very busy (in more ways than one – you’ll see what I mean when you visit it) little production. I love it. Raych forthrightly says what we’re all secretly thinking. Spend the time on her blog which you would’ve spent crawling through du Maurier’s non-opus, and you’ll be much happier. Says me, from first hand experience of both.

January 28, 2011

This was a difficult one to read.  It has those sort of circular, Catcher-in-the-Rye conversations where the point is not the content but the banality, which makes for good social critique but sloggery reading.  And it’s maybe 99% dialogue, because nothing happens.

Ok so.  Dick is the son of a famous author-slash-shitty father and, not having accomplished anything worthwhile by the ripe old age of maybe 21, Dick is on a bridge about to throw himself off when Jake happens by and is all, Don’t do that.  Exciting! you think.  And then on to page seven, where Jake and Dick go hire horses and ride through the mountains and the fjords for chapters and Jake tries to buck Dick up because Dick is sort of a whiner.  Somewhere in there Dick sleeps with a girl and it is disappointing for everyone involved.

Jake exits scene left about halfway through the book via Unexpected Oceanic Death and Hesta enters, with her large eyes and orange beret, and she and Dick shack up.  And this is where the whole thing gets seedy.  Daphne wanted to write about the uncomfortable relationships between men and women, and she nailed it because this is The Worst.  Dick spends ages trying to convince Hesta to let him nail her, complete with sulks and professions of love and more sulks.  After he finally wears her down he’s all *phew* Now that I’ve had you you can give up your music and come live in my flat with me and I will ignore you while I write the Great English Novel.

So it goes.  After a while (months, say) Hesta is like, I’m bored.  Remember how we used to…you know.  And Dick, who has been busily writing a novel (and a play!  Both sure to be hits!) all this time is like, ‘You mustn’t…you musn’t be like that.  It’s ghastly…it’s making a thing of it, it’s – it’s unattractive.  It’s all right for me to want you, but not for you – at least, never to say.’  Ugh, right?  So that when he goes to London to sell his novel (and play!) and his dad’s publisher is like, I’m sorry, but these are terrible, and he comes home to find that Hesta has left him for literally anyone else you’re all, Huzzah!  Oh and also, The end.

I feel like I need a shower.  It’s We Need To Talk About Kevin all over again.  Du Maurier succeeded in making me feel hideously uncomfortable which, while impressive, is also unpleasant.  I like my characters to be Good or Bad or a Mix but Something.  I don’t like for them to wander around listlessly with no real ideas and a too-large sense of their own importance alternated with a sort of whiny comprehension of how much they actually suck.

Very good, and very skillfully done, but I didn’t like it.

So there you have it. I will leave you with the closing lines of this story, which gives you a firsthand snippet of the banal monologue we’ve had to struggle through. Here’s Dick:

From my window I look down upon the little square. The trees are green in the garden opposite. There is the clean, fresh smell of an evening after rain. Somewhere, on one of the branches of the trees, I can hear a bird singing. A note that sounds from a long way off, sweet and clear, like a whisper in the air. And there is something beautiful about it, and something sad. At first he is lost, and then he is happy again. Sometimes he is wistful, sometimes he is glad.

He seems to be saying: “I’ll never be young again – I’ll never be young again.”

“I’ll never be young again.” Thank heaven for that. Because once she got this one out of her system, Daphne went on to write her next book, The Progress of Julius, which I absolutely adore, and then Jamaica Inn, and Rebecca

Growing pains. So glad she made it through!

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