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 5 (2017) : The Loving Spirit

loving spiritThe trouble with having an obsession with someone is that you can be blind to their faults. So it is with me and Daphne.

The Loving Spirit‘ was du Maurier’s first novel, written when she was just 22 and living in Fowey, Cornwall. It is a family saga, charting the fortunes of the Coombes, beginning with the matriarch, Janet. Janet has a longing to be free and at one with the sea and the wind, borne by the power of the loving spirit. She finds a partner in Thomas, who provides for her and her children, but it is not until her son, Joseph, is born, that Janet meets her true soulmate. She promises never to leave him and he, in turn, embodies her in a schooner named in her honour.

A wild sailor, driven by impulse rather than reason, Captain Joe places his hopes of succession in his eldest son, Christopher. But when Christopher fails to fulfil his father’s ambitions for him, Joseph sinks into a deep depression, exacerbated by the failing eyesight which forces him to abandon his sea-faring life. Whilst the family boat-building business is driven to the wall by recession and the financial shenanigans of Joe’s Uncle Philip, it seems as if the family’s fortunes are dashed. But hope for the family’s salvation appears in Jennifer, Christopher’s daughter. She also is driven by the loving spirit.

Despite the author’s obvious careful research into the family history of the Slades (upon which the Coombe family is based), the more contemporary the plot becomes, the more credible the descriptions. The novel is naive at best and the influences of the Brontes evident. There is a lot of wildness, tumult, roaring and plunging, resulting in a melodramatic tone to the whole work. It is nevertheless a remarkable achievement for the extremely young Daphne du Maurier who, as we know, went on to even greater things. Like ‘Rebecca‘, ‘My Cousin Rachel‘ and ‘Jamaica Inn‘.

My copy of ‘The Loving Spirit‘ is old, with slightly blurry font and brown-edged pages. I loved re-reading it. Although I realise it’s not a great book overall, as part of a body of work by an author I love, it is nevertheless important. All those churning seas and screaming gulls have a special place in my bookish affections.

Book No 11 (2014) : The Thirteenth Tale

13th taleOnce I’d got used to the idea that this book was actually not about the Amish (I got that impression from the two little girls in white cotton petticoats on the front cover!), I settled down to enjoy it.

Margaret Lea is a solitary character, spending her time helping in her father’s bookshop, where she lives above the shop. Having published a short biographical essay, she is approached by a celebrated contemporary author, Vida Winter. Ms Winter asks Margaret to chronicle the truth about her life, telling the story of her childhood and upbringing at Angelfield, the family home. As you would expect from such a tale, Vida is reclusive, eccentric and ready to reveal her secrets.

The author of ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ has been accused of being pretentious, as the book has a Gothic feel together with references to several classics, most notably ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Rebecca’. That was not my impression. It’s an interesting take on the rambling house/skeletons in the cupboard/family saga and the plot had enough twists to keep me interested throughout.  The book was adapted as a TV movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Vida Winter – perfect choice.

I rather wished I was Margaret – bookshop inhabitant, wanderer of old houses, budding biographer!