Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

I originally wanted to post this review back in November when I re-read Jamaica Inn, but alas, life got in the way and my review lay waiting in my Drafts throughout Christmas. Although later than I intended, I wanted to publish this review because this book meant a great deal to me when I first read it over four years ago and I wanted to share my feelings on why I still loved it second time around. So here we go. 

302 pages  Virago Modern Press  2013

It’s no secret that I love Daphne du Maurier. Her story telling is brilliant and I’m forever in awe of the atmosphere she managed to inject in to her writing. All autumn I’ve been craving historical novels blended with gothic themes and I decided to treat myself to a re-read of one of my favourite du Maurier novels: Jamaica Inn. I don’t often re-read books but I was craving something familiar and Jamaica Inn was calling to me, so it would have been rude not too, right? I think so.

The heroine of the story is Mary Yellan, a young woman in her early twenties who following her dying mother’s last wish, goes to live with her aunt Patience on the isolated Cornish moors. Mary arrives at Jamaica Inn, where her brutish uncle Joss Merlyn is the landlord and her aunt Patience is a shell of the woman she once was. There are no visitors at the inn, except for the wagons which come late at night and Mary soon realises that Jamaica Inn’s crumbling walls hide many dark and villainous secrets.

I’m always nervous when I read a book a second time. The voice in the back of my mind makes me question whether I’ll enjoy the story again. What if it’s not as good as the first time? That possibility is always there since as readers our tastes are forever changing and growing. Yet I was itching to return to this story and I was confident this book would be a comfort to me. And boy, it sure was. Daphne du Maurier has a way of writing that draws me in – her prose oozes atmosphere and suspense and it kept me on my toes even though I already knew the story. There were so many little details that I’d forgotten about and even though I wouldn’t consider Jamaica Inn to be a sweeping epic with masses of plot, it’s still full of tension.

I realised I liked Mary more as a protagonist this time around. I have memories of her being rather moody and aloof but I think that stems from how she was portrayed in the BBC mini-series, which I quite liked but I don’t think it was the adaptation the book truly deserved. Du Maurier’s Mary Yellan is good natured and strong, but she’s also na├»ve and makes her fair share of bad decisions like the rest of us. Most of the characters in the book are flawed and that’s what makes them so believable. Joss Merlyn is a ruthless bully who has committed terrible crimes, but I find his character so interesting as there are hints as to what he would have been ten years ago and how he became what he is.

Even the romance is flawed and, in a sense, unromantic. Jem Merlyn isn’t cruel like his brother but Mary notes the similarities and can see the charm that her aunt Patience once saw in her uncle. In a story that harbours some quite harrowing scenes, there are moments of tenderness between Mary and Jem which do offer some hope.

Although I anticipated the ending this time, I remember not seeing it coming the first time I read it. There’s build up upon build up and just when it feels the story has reached its climax, it surprises you once again. The twists, the gothic atmosphere, the suspense – I simply love this story. As it’s set through November and December it’s perfect for those blustery winter evenings if seasonal reads are your jam cosy. When I first read this story four years ago, I was going through a difficult time in my life and yet I still managed to find some joy in this book. That’s real literary power and I’m so thankful to Daphne du Maurier for writing it.

Overall rating: 5 stars
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