Book No 9 (2018) : Manderley Forever

manderleyI bought my copy of ‘Manderley Forever’ when I went to the Fowey Festival of Arts & Literature in 2017. In conversation with Dr Laura Varnham, Tatiana de Rosnay revealed her lifelong fascination with Daphne du Maurier, and her desire to explore the French influences in the author’s life. Laura is a renowned du Maurier expert who drew out the best of Tatiana’s meticulous research and insights for the benefit of the Festival audience. I had my book signed by its author and came away happy. Since then, it has been up on my special Daphne shelf, waiting for March 2018. Because that is when I went to Manderley.

Menabilly in Cornwall, together with Milton House near Cambridge, was the inspiration for Manderley, the house in what is probably du Maurier’s most famous work, ‘Rebecca’. Menabilly is the seat of the Rashleigh family but Daphne rented it from them for 26 years, using her own money to restore and modernise the neglected mansion. She never owned the house. We rented Keeper’s Cottage on the Menabilly estate and I read ‘Manderley Forever’ while I was there.

There is already a great deal of published work about Daphne du Maurier, as well as her own novels, short stories, letters and memoirs. So is there room for another biography? Yes. Absolutely.

Tatiana de Rosnay uses a strong sense of place to examine Daphne’s life from a different angle, visiting the places which influenced du Maurier so profoundly. Not only Menabilly and Cornwall, but also London and France. She highlights Daphne’s fascination with her own French heritage and family history. It seems to me that when Daphne was grounded in a place, her imagination was free to soar – the staging of childhood plays in Cumberland Terrace and Cannon Hall, the blissful solitude of Ferryside in the early days of her writing career, her deep connection to Menabilly.

I could go on, and on! The nature of this blog is to provide short, useful reviews but I can’t resist the temptation to share the fact that Keepers Cottage features in ‘Don’t Look Now’, that Justine Picardie stayed there with her son while she was researching for her own novel, that Rebecca’s beach house on Polridmouth beach is real, or that I actually rang the doorbell of “Mena”. Such simple pleasures for a Du Maurier groupie but oh, such fun.

‘Manderley Forever’ is wonderful; an accessible and comprehensive account of Daphne du Maurier’s life by a skilled and intuitive biographer. I sank into it and didn’t surface for two days.

Book No 8 (2018) : Cartes Postales from Greece

cartes postalesI still send postcards when I go on holiday. They’ve rather gone out of fashion with the advent of social media, but I’ve always liked them. As a child, I collected the ones sent from afar by a pilot friend of the family, and even now I cherish a collection of vintage ones depicting UK lighthouses. So Victoria Hislop’s most recent bestseller ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ appealed to my love of the picture postcard.

The storyline is attractive. Postcards from Greece keep arriving at Ellie’s flat. She knows they aren’t for her, but the images and messages intrigue her. She plans a holiday to Greece to discover its magic for herself, and just as she is leaving for her trip, a notebook arrives in the post, addressed to the same recipient as the postcards and bearing the same simple signature. Just ‘A’. The notebook gradually reveals how A. rebuilds his life after a failed love affair. He travels through Greece and each section of the book is a ‘postcard’, a short story with accompanying photographs. As Ellie nears the end of the notebook, she cannot resist the temptation to track down its owner, and return the journal to him.

On the plus side, I like books with pictures. If I pick up a biography I usually flick to the middle to peruse those few glossy pages which accentuate the life story. On the negative side, this is a strange book, despite the promising premise. The short stories are unconnected to one another, and apart from one very creepy one about a young couple whose car breaks down in a deserted village, unrewarding. A’s cathartic journey is simply a washing line on which to hang all these wet rags, and it doesn’t work well. The ending of the book is twee and contrived, trying too hard to please.

I’ve read everything Victoria Hislop has written, but this was a disappointment. If you’ve never read her before, don’t start with this. If you are a fan, I wonder what you’ll make of ‘Cartes Postales’. Answers on a postcard, please…..

 

Book Nos 6 & 7 (2018) : The Lewis Man & The Chess Men

Starting these books and putting them down is a bit like trying to hide chocolates in the fridge. They just sit there shouting and waving at me, ‘wooo-hoo, we’re over here’, until I have to go and retrieve them and finish them off!

The Lewis Man‘ and ‘The Chess Men‘ are the 2nd and 3rd books respectively in Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy and I found them highly addictive.

The 1st novel, ‘The Black House‘, drew me in with its combination of murder and family stories, set against the background of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. I’ve visited the island. It is beautiful, but also somewhat bleak, and the weather dominates daily life in a way we probably can’t quite comprehend, as so many of us have lost our essential connections to the land. May’s descriptions of fishing communities, peat-cutting and folklore, together with relationships and feuds stretching back through decades, make for compelling reading.

The Lewis Man‘ centres upon the discovery of a body in the peat bogs, its features preserved by the acidic soil. Crucial to identifying the victim and discovering his fate, is Marsailli’s father. But Tormod’s mind is confused by dementia, making the pieces of the crime puzzle even more difficult for former detective Fin McLeod to piece together.

The members of a successful Gaelic band are the central characters in ‘The Chess Men‘. When a freak of  nature reveal s a wrecked plane with the former lead singer of Sòlas still strapped in the pilot’s seat, Fin is drawn into unravelling the fate of the band’s musicians.

Both books weave in and out of Fin McLeod’s past. Although each could be taken as a standalone work, reading the whole trilogy allows the reader to examine the experiences and relationships which have shaped Fin’s life through childhood, teenage years and adulthood. The threads of the story are dropped and picked up, intertwined and re-visited in clever ways, but there is not really a neat ending for Fin. Even though it would have been satisfying, I rather liked the ambiguity about his future. Peter May has said there won’t be any more books in the series, so each reader is left with their own ideas about how McLeod’s story will continue.

If you decide to embark on this trilogy, I suggest buying all three books at the same time. Because if my experience is anything to go by, once you finish ‘The Black House‘ you’ll be so keen to move on to ‘The Lewis Man‘ that even waiting for it to arrive in the post will be a frustrating delay!