Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Avon
Publication Date: 1936
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
Challenge: Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
Mary Yellan abides by her mother's dying wish and leaves her beautiful Helston behind and travels north to the Cornish moors and Jamaica Inn. There she expects to meet her Aunt Patience, the bubbly beauty of memory and her new husband, Joss Merlyn, who runs Jamaica Inn. Instead she finds a shell of a woman and a terrifying brute of a man in a run down inn where travellers dare not stop. If she will do as she's told and not ask questions, all will be well, her Uncle Joss tells her. It's not long till Mary starts to dream of a way out of her situation for herself and her aunt, taking what solace she can from wandering the moors. It's not long till she learns there are more nefarious aspects of Jamaica Inn, like the barred and locked room. On a fateful Saturday night Mary serves as barmaid to Joss and his rowdy friends. Long after she has gone to bed she hears wagons and then men are silently loading cargo in the dead of night. She sneaks downstairs and believes that he Uncle has committed a murder, though she has no proof, just the rope hanging from the ceiling. She decides that the next time her Uncle sets off across the moors she will follow him, come what may. But she becomes lost and stumbles upon the Vicar of Alturn, Francis Davey, a bizarre albino. She unburdens all she believes to be happening at Jamaica Inn to him and returns to the Inn with new hope in her heart because of this alliance. Soon she will have love in her heart as well, as she falls for Joss's younger brother Jem, a rascal and a horse thief. But when her Uncle is in his cups one night she learns the whole dark truth of Jamaica Inn and realizes why her Aunt has the haunted expression, because she now sees it in the mirror looking back at her. But hearing about the horrors and living through them are two separate things. After the horrors of one night it looks like everything will come to a head and Mary doesn't know if she'll survive, or if her survival matters as long as Joss Merlyn is brought to justice.

First off, why have I never read this book? It screams me! Period drama, Bronte-esque characters, but still all oddly modern and not bogged down in overtly "period" language. I just fell into this book and didn't want to leave. Du Maurier is able to so vividly capture the landscape and atmosphere, you can see how Cornwall needed Du Maurier to tell this story and Du Maurier needed Cornwall. There's a symbiotic relationship that feeds off each other and brings out the best in both through this stunning story. While really there is the barest of plots, young, destitute girl forced to live with evil relations and find a way to survive till the day is saved, it's the characters that drive this story forward. By all reckoning, Joss Merlyn should be a repulsive, horrid man, but there's some magnetism about him, you are drawn to this brute. Mary could see why her Aunt fell for him all those years ago. Which is why I think Mary falls for Jem, a purer, untainted version of Joss. I wonder how much of Joss is a distortion of Du Maurier's own larger than life father Gerald... there is so much about Du Maurier's life that makes you wonder, she herself might be just as big a mystery as the stories she wrote. But one thing is certain, I loved this book and this world. I was drawn in, guessing at the inevitable ending looming nearer and nearer, figuring out that the twist was soon to come, but never guessing at the depravity. Read this book, you won't be let down!


Basically, I have to echo everything that Miss Eliza wrote.

Mary Yellen is a tough, witty and highly likeable protagonist and the Merlyn brothers and vicar of Altarnun are equally compelling supporting characters.

There are certainly nods towards Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights' (another favourite of mine) but, in my opinion, 'Jamaica Inn' has enough originality, intrigue and magnetism to sustain the reader's interest and to establish it a great book in its own right. In short, I simply loved it :) .

I agree, it has echos of the Brontes, but totally stands on it's own in it's awesomeness. Though I would avoid the movie :P

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