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.

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Book No 11 (2016) Sarah’s Key

Sarah's Key10-year old Sarah’s mother has told her to wear her star with pride, to hold up her head and be proud. But when French soldiers come knocking at the family’s Paris apartment in July 1942, rounding up Jews, Sarah begins to realise that her father may not have been telling her the truth about what was happening in France. Whilst her mother is paralysed by fear, Sarah makes the swift decision to hide her brother from the policemen. Ushering him into their secret hiding place with some water and a teddy bear for comfort, she closes and locks the door. She promises she will come back for him later. Sarah and her parents are taken with thousands of others to a Parisian velodrome (The Vélodrome d’Hiver) before being herded onto cattle trucks to prison camps.. Children of all ages are forcibly separated from their mothers, who are then marched away. Sarah keeps the brass key in her pocket, knowing that she has to get back to Michel. But, having missed an opportunity to escape from the Velodrome, will she get another one?

Julia Jarmond is an American journalist living in Paris, who is asked to write about the Vel’ d’Hiv round-up as the 60th anniversary of the event approaches. The article has come at a busy time in her life, as Julia and her French husband are about to move into a new apartment. But as the writer delves deeper into the background to the piece, she finds that Sarah’s story begins to turn like a key, in her own heart.

I came across Tatiana de Rosnay because she has written a new biography of Daphne du Maurier, which is hopefully going to be available in English very soon. I had honestly never heard of her before, and who can’t fail to be intrigued by someone with a name like Tatiana de Rosnay?

Sarah’s Key‘ has a very rare quality for me – memorability. I read a lot of books and for most of them, if you mention them to me six months later I will probably remember the title and the author, whether I liked it or not and maybe one or two sketchy details of the plot. But, like ‘Sophie’s Choice‘ and Chris Cleave’s ‘The Other Hand‘, ‘Sarah’s Key‘ has a central premise which is very simple in principle, and as a plot mechanism, but has devastating consequences. Becuase part of the story is told by Sarah herself, I was also reminded (in a good way) of Michelle Magorian’s wonderful ‘Goodnight, Mister Tom‘. The Vel’ d’Hiv  round-up actually took place, a fact which renders the novel even more heartbreaking.

Although harrowing and upsetting, this is not a difficult read – some readers would easily manage it in one sitting. I could think of a lot worse ways to spend a couple of hours and don’t be put off by the subject matter; no book about the Holocaust is going to be easy reading, but this has courage, hope and kindness in abundance. A great read.