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Reading the World: ‘Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier’ by Tatiana de Rosnay ****

‘As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As a thirteen-year-old, de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurie’s fiction. Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old to a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty- something newlywed, and finally, a cantankerous old woman. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay’s works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (in her time) critically underrated writer.’

9781250099136I love du Maurier, and she is easily one of my favourite authors.  I have also really enjoyed de Rosnay’s work to date, and when I found out about the French publication of Manderley Forever, I willed it to be translated into English as soon as was possible.

I love the way in which Manderley Forever is written.  I found the first section particularly incredibly spellbinding.  There was almost a magical quality to its prose, as well as the story it relayed.  Whilst the rest of the book was undoubtedly fascinating, I do feel as though it unfortunately lost a little of its sparkle.  Perhaps this is because I knew relatively little about Daphne as a child, but was well versed in her life and writing from adolescence onward.  The childhood section was refreshing, I suppose, in that it held some surprises for me.

There is an undoubted admiration on de Rosnay’s behalf, and the whole has been written and researched lovingly.  I really liked the way in which de Rosnay drew a parallel story alongside du Maurier’s biography, by going on a personal ‘pilgrimage’ to all of the places in which du Maurier lived and visited.  De Rosnay is thorough, and presents her subject in such detail.

The section which included du Maurier’s obituaries was a really nice touch, particularly with regard to the legacy which she left behind.  It also drew a very fitting conclusion to the biography.  The translation, too, was flawless.  One can certainly tell that de Rosnay is first and foremost a novelist.  I can only hope that she writes more such fantastic portraits as this in future.

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One From the Archive: ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ by Sally Beauman ***

Sally Beauman’s Rebecca’s Tale, a sequel to du Maurier’s haunting Rebecca, is a book which I have been looking forward to reading for years.  It has proved quite an elusive title to locate however, so I had not been able to find it in any bookshops, and thought that my du Maurier December project gave me the perfect excuse to order a copy.  I was incredibly intrigued to see where Beauman would take the story.

Rebecca’s Tale was published in 2001 and is largely set in 1951, twenty years after the 9780751533132inquest which ruled that Rebecca’s death was a suicide.  The novel is split into four parts, all of which follow a different character; friend of Rebecca’s Arthur Julyan, historian Terence Grey, the diary of Rebecca herself, and Ellie, Arthur Julyan’s daughter. Each of the characters writing in 1951 is aiming to discover the truth of Rebecca’s death in his or her own way. One imagines that this sequel of sorts, with its opening line the same as the original’s, could not really have begun in any other way.

In his introductory chapter, Julyan, a former army colonel and retired magistrate, states: ‘I’ve concealed the truth about Rebecca de Winter for too long…  I decided to record, for the first time, and leaving nothing out, everything I know about Manderley, the de Winters, Rebecca, her mysterious life and her mysterious death’.  He goes on to rehash many of the details from du Maurier’s original, none of which I will relate here for fear of giving away spoilers to those of you who have not yet read Rebecca.

Julyan lives in Kerrith, the ‘nearest small town to Manderley’, and rather adored Rebecca when the two knew one another: ‘I was Rebecca’s friend; I knew, better than anyone, how well Rebecca had covered her tracks, how secretive she’d been’.  He goes on to say: ‘I’ve always believed that you cannot understand Rebecca and what she became unless you understand the family she married into.  I’ve always felt that if I were searching for clues to Rebecca, Manderley was the first place to look’.  He cites himself as the ‘prime source’ of finding out what happened to her, particularly now that her husband Maxim de Winter has passed away.  Through Julyan, we meet both Maxim and Beatrice de Winter as children – although it must be said that the two are not overly believable when Beauman writes about them.  Danvers, Rebecca’s formidable confidante of sorts, and an ardent worshipper of the young woman, has disappeared without a trace.

Julyan is sent a package containing a notebook with the words, ‘in a child’s spiky hand, the tail of the last letter curling down the page in a long punning flourish.  Rebecca’s Tale‘.  His portion of the novel is largely told in retrospect.  Julyan’s narrative voice feels rather overdone at times; feminine phrasing creeps in from time to time, and there is nothing presented to us which is overly masculine within his character.  He tends to be a little pompous at times; unnecessarily so, one cannot help but think.  This aspect of his personality becomes more and more grating as the novel goes on.  Historian Terence Grey narrates the second part of the novel and is, says Julyan, ‘crucial to my Rebecca “quest”‘.  Whilst I can see why the perspectives of both Grey and Julyan’s daughter Ellie have been used, both of them feel rather overdone on the whole, and consequently I did not grow to like any of the characters.

Some of the cast of ‘Rebecca’ (1940)

The plentiful positive reviews lavished across the cover of Rebecca’s Tale led me to believe that I would very much enjoy the book.  I had rather varied feelings about it though, and whilst I very much enjoyed some sections, I really disliked others.  On the back of the novel, a quote from author Linda Grant proclaims the following: ‘While both du Maurier and Beauman are great storytellers, Beauman really is the better prose writer’.  I did not personally agree with this at all.  Comparably, I do not think Beauman’s writing is anywhere near as strong nor as vivid as du Maurier’s, and she also does not make her male narrative voices sound realistic, something which du Maurier herself is wonderful at.

Rebecca’s Tale is, to an extent, well written, and it does become more absorbing as it goes on, but when a new narrative perspective is introduced – particularly with regard to that of Terence Grey’s – a lot of the details which Julyan has already related are repeated for no particular reason.  This would be relatively bearable, were it not for the fact that the same phrases are used, often in their entirety.  Speaking of the title which Rebecca wrote in her notebook, for example, Grey describes it as a ‘childish punning flourish’, rather than Julyan’s aforementioned ‘long punning flourish’.  Grey’s voice also feels even more effeminate than Julyan’s.

I feel that I do not have to write that Rebecca’s Tale is nowhere near as compelling as Rebecca.  Whilst I admire what Beauman has done in creating a sequel to a much-loved and rather phenomenal novel, I do not see why her effort had to be quite so repetitive.  Whilst her novel is well paced, several of the elements are bogged down by superfluous – and again, often repetitive – descriptions, and less interesting aspects of the plot.  Disappointingly, I did guess a lot of the twists and turns within the story.  One of the strengths of Rebecca’s Tale was Beauman’s original blending of the original characters with her new creations.  Another is the way in which some depth was added to the shadowy past of Rebecca herself.

Rebecca’s Tale is an interesting read for anyone who has enjoyed Rebecca, but the conclusions which Beauman draws are often far too obvious, quite unsatisfactory, and sometimes are not anywhere near subtle enough to work.  All in all, the very idea of a sequel to Rebecca, that much adored of Gothic novels, is rather inviting, but it is not entirely necessary.  As a reader and ardent fan of her work, I respect du Maurier’s decision to end Rebecca in the way in which she did.  Whilst it is pleasing that another author has taken to the helm, I cannot convince myself that du Maurier would have utilised many of the same elements as Beauman has in Rebecca’s Tale.

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Short Story Series: Part Five

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like. I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections. Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb. I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
‘A classic of alienation and horror, ‘The Birds’ was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man’s sense of dominance over the natural world. The mountain paradise of ‘Monte Verita’ promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject’s life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three’s a crowd …’

2. Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
‘Tenderly, observantly, incisively, Edith Pearlman captures life on the page like few other writers. She is a master of the short story, and this is a spectacular collection.’

3. Lying Under the Apple Tree by Alice Munro
‘Spanning her last five collections and bringing together her finest work from the past fifteen years, this new selection of Alice Munro’s stories infuses everyday lives with a wealth of nuance and insight. Beautifully observed and remarkably crafted, written with emotion and empathy, these stories are nothing short of perfection. It is a masterclass in the genre, from an author who deservedly lays claim to being one of the major fiction writers of our time.’

My review can be found here.

4. Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
‘”Delicate Edible Birds” includes nine stories of vastly different styles and structures. “L. De Bard and Aliette” recreates the tale of Abelard and Heloise in New York during the 1918 flu epidemic; “Lucky Chow Fun” returns to Templeton, the setting of Groff’s debut novel, for a contemporary account of what happens to outsiders in a small, insular town; the title story of “Delicate Edible Birds” is a harrowing, powerfully moving drama about a group of war correspondents, a lone woman among them, who fall prey to a frightening man in the French countryside while fleeing the Nazis. With a dazzling array of voices and settings, “Delicate Edible Birds” will cement Lauren Groff’s reputation as one of the foremost talents of her generation.’

5. Under a Glass Bell by Anais Nin
‘”Under a Glass Bell” is one of Nin’s finest collections of stories. First published in 1944, it attracted the attention of Edmond Wilson, who reviewed the collection in “The New Yorker.” It was in these stories that Nin’s artistic and emotional vision took shape. This edition includes a highly informative and insightful foreword by Gunther Stuhlmann that places the collection in its historical context as well as illuminates the sequence of events and persons recorded in the diary that served as its inspiration.’

6. Selected Short Stories by Virginia Woolf
‘Virginia Woolf tested the boundaries of fiction in these short stories, developing a new language of sensation, feeling and thought, and recreating in words the ‘swarm and confusion of life’. Defying categorization, the stories range from the more traditional narrative style of “Solid Objects” through the fragile impressionism of “Kew Gardens” to the abstract exploration of consciousness in “The Mark on the Wall”.’

7. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
‘What is the real world? Does it exist, or is it merely a means of keeping another reality at bay? Not the End of the World is Kate Atkinson’s first collection of short stories. Playful and profound, they explore the world we think we know whilst offering a vision of another world which lurks just beneath the surface of our consciousness, a world where the myths we have banished from our lives are startlingly present and where imagination has the power to transform reality. From Charlene and Trudi, obsessively making lists while bombs explode softly in the streets outside, to gormless Eddie, maniacal cataloguer of fish, and Meredith Zane who may just have discovered the secret to eternal life, each of these stories shows that when the worlds of material existence and imagination collide, anything is possible.’

8. Selected Short Stories by Honore de Balzac
‘One of the greatest French novelists, Balzac was also an accomplished writer of shorter fiction. This volume includes twelve of his finest short stories many of which feature characters from his epic series of novels the Comedie Humaine. Compelling tales of acute social and psychological insight, they fully demonstrate the mastery of suspense and revelation that were the hallmarks of Balzac’s genius. In The Atheist’s Mass, we learn the true reason for a distinguished atheist surgeon’s attendance at religious services; La Grande Breteche describes the horrific truth behind the locked doors of a decaying country mansion, while The Red Inn relates a brutal tale of murder and betrayal. A fascinating counterpoint to the renowned novels, all the stories collected here stand by themselves as mesmerizing works by one of the finest writers of nineteenth-century France.’

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Short Story Series: Part Four

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
‘Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly–they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. “No One Belongs Here More Than You” is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.’

2. How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan
‘This is a collection of stories about love from the New York Times bestselling author of Every Day. They met on a plane / at Starbucks / in class. It was a set-up / it was completely random / they were dancing. It was love at first sight / it took time / it was a disaster! Love is a complicated, addictive, volatile, scary, wonderful thing. Many of the stories in this collection started out as gifts for the author’s friends. From the happy-ever-after to the unrequited, they explore the many aspects of the emotion that has at some time turned us all inside out and upside down.’

3. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
‘Innovative, startlingly perceptive and aglow with colour, these fifteen stories were written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield’s tragically short life. Many are set in the author’s native New Zealand, others in England and the French Riviera. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience – from the blackly comic “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, and the short, sharp sketch “Miss Brill”, in which a lonely woman’s precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed, to the vivid impressionistic evocation of family life in “At the Bay”. ‘All that I write,’ Mansfield said, ‘all that I am – is on the borders of the sea. It is a kind of playing.”

4. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
‘John and Laura have come to Venice to try and escape the pain of their young daughter’s death. But when they encounter two old women who claim to have second sight, they find that, instead of laying their ghosts to rest, they become caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events. The four other haunting, evocative stories in this volume also explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires: a lonely teacher who investigates a mysterious American couple; a young woman confronting her father’s past; a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem; and a scientist who harnesses the power of the mind to chilling effect.’

5. Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
‘Like her extraordinary novel, McCracken’s stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit–only the old woman can’t be traced on the family tree. In ‘What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children’, the normal middle-class son of a former circus performer (the Armless Woman) must suddenly confront his mother’s pain. In ‘It’s Bad Luck to Die’, a young woman discovers that her husband’s loving creations–he’s a tattoo artist–make her feel at home in her skin for the first time. Daring, offbeat, and utterly unforgettable, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry is the work of a n unparalleled young storyteller who possesses a rare insight and unconventional wisdom far beyond her years. Her stories will steal your heart.’

6. This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
‘From the publication of his first Booker-nominated novel at the age of twenty-six, Jon McGregor’s fiction has consistently been defined by lean poetic language, a keen sense of detail, and insightful characterization. Now, after publishing three novels, he’s turning his considerable talent toward short fiction. The stories in this beautifully wrought collection explore a specific physical world and the people who inhabit it.Set among the lowlands and levees, the fens and ditches that mark the spare landscape of eastern England, the stories expose lives where much is buried, much is at risk, and tender moments are hard-won. The narrators of these delicate, dangerous, and sometimes deeply funny stories tell us what they believe to be important-in language inflected with the landscape’s own understatement-while the real stories lie in what they unwittingly let slip.A man builds a tree house by a river in preparation for a coming flood. A boy sets fire to a barn. A pair of itinerant laborers sit by a lake and talk, while fighter-planes fly low overhead and prepare for war. “This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You” is an intricate exploration of isolation, self-discovery, and the impact of place on the human psyche.’

7. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
‘Flannery O’Connor was working on “Everything That Rises Must Converge” at the time of her death. This collection is an exquisite legacy from a genius of the American short story, in which she scrutinizes territory familiar to her readers: race, faith, and morality. The stories encompass the comic and the tragic, the beautiful and the grotesque; each carries her highly individual stamp and could have been written by no one else.’

8. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Downes
‘For fifty years, Mollie Panter-Downes’ name was associated with “The New Yorker.” She wrote a regular column (“Letter from London”), book reviews, and over thirty short stories about English domestic life during World War Two. Twenty-one of these stories are included in “Good Evening Mrs Craven”–the first collected volume of her work.Mollie Panter-Downes writes about those coping on the periphery of the war who attend sewing parties, host evacuees sent to the country, and obsess over food and rationing. She captures the quiet moments of fear and courage. Here we find “the mistress, unlike the wife, who has to worry and mourn in secret for her man” and a “middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over.’

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Du Maurier December: ‘Rule Britannia’ by Daphne du Maurier ****

Before I purchased Rule Britannia for this month’s project, I had no idea that Daphne du Maurier had turned her talented hand to apocalyptic fiction. First published in 1972, the novel is a ‘chilling’ version of the future, in which du Maurier ‘explores the implications of a political, economic and military alliance between Britain and the United States’.  In essence, Rule Britannia is the author’s own exploration of a Cold War situation, in which a superpower named USUK is created in order to try and reduce the threat from other countries.

In Ella Westland’s introduction, she writes: ‘In Rule Britannia‘s sardonic scenaro for the 1970s, the United States administration sets up an alliance with the UK government over the heads of the British people, and sends in the Marines to quell the troublemakers.  But the authorities reckon without the truculence of the Celtic fringe’.  Westland speaks of real-world politics alongside the events within the novel, and also draws parallels with du Maurier’s other, more famous work: ‘despite its dream opening, dangerous cliffs, dead bodies, and the slanting of the story through a young woman’s eyes – all the elements in common with Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier’s last novel is indeed very different from the book that made her world-famous’.  Westland’s introduction has been carefully written, and each element of importance surrounding Rule Britannia – the thoughts of reviewers and the odd aspects of the plot, for example – has been considered intelligently.

Westland goes on to say: ‘In the zany Cornish world of Rule Britannia, Peter Pan meets the marines.  Mad’s cool and sensible granddaughter plays Wendy to Mad’s Peter Pan, the lovable and exasperating fantasist who refuses to grow up’. Due to the USUK alliance, eighteen-year-old Emma’s life, and the world she knows, is shattered: ‘There’s no post, no telephone, no radio – and an American warship sits in the harbour’.  When Emma wakes to no radio signal and problems all around her in the first chapter, the novel’s omniscient narrator says the following: ‘And this, she told herself, is what comes of living in a mad-house, rightly named after its owner [Emma’s grandmother, Mad], who, on retiring from the stage some years ago after a brilliant career, could think of nothing better to do than to adopt six parentless, maladjusted boys and let them run riot in her home, believing, by doing so, that she had justification for living when her career had finished’.

The characters in Rule Britannia are largely well-drawn, and all are distinctive and rather memorable.  The boys which Mad has adopted are all quite different; Andy, for example, is adventurous and likes to clamber onto the roof of the house to shoot his bow and arrow, and Sam is rather obsessed with saving injured animals.  The majority of the protagonists do feel like du Maurier creations.

Du Maurier demonstrates the way in which such a situation so affects the civilian quota, and can so easily create conditions with which people can pitch themselves against one another, creating an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ culture.  She shows the way in which such an alliance has the potential to change everything, from education to the standard national currency, and how hostility can so quickly manifest itself within society.  Divisions are set out immediately when we find out that Emma’s merchant banker father is he enemy of sorts; he represents the ‘clueless’ London majority in the book who are intent upon ruling over all.   Mad believes that he is ‘Treading the corridors of power. If there is any power left’.

In the small Cornish village in which Emma and Mad live, a resistance group is soon set up.  Du Maurier has tried to give ‘her Cornwall back to the Cornish’, allowing them to defend their own county. Secrecy becomes a part of daily life, and it is never quite clear whom one is able to trust.  Interestingly, aside from the setting and Cornish surnames used, there is nothing in the first few chapters of Rule Britannia which made me feel that it was distinctively du Maurier’s work.  It feels far more modern in its prose style – and other respects – than a lot of her other work, and it is clear that the author adapted well to the time period in which she was writing.

The entirety of Rule Britannia is rather cleverly done; the elements which du Maurier has woven into daily life could quite easily be true.  She has made them feel eminently realistic, so much so that as a reader, I barely questioned any of the new or ‘different’ elements which were added. The novel is well paced, and the plot moves along quite quickly.  My only criticism of the story itself is that as it goes on, some of the decisions which particular protagonists make, and conversations which they have with one another, can tend to feel quite out of character and unrealistic.  The realism, which was so well shown at first, seems to diminish rather in places.  The mantra which Mad consequently drums into those around her to excuse them for their questionable behaviour is that ‘these are not normal times’, but this does not go quite far enough to excuse some of the events which occur.  Rifts soon develop within the family too, running simultaneously alongside the problems in the wider community.

Rule Britannia is almost sinister at times; it feels as though the ever-present darkness within du Maurier’s short stories has crept in and firmly rooted itself.  The novel is an incredibly interesting one, particularly when one is familiar with du Maurier’s other work.  Interesting comparisons can be drawn to her other novels throughout.  Rule Britannia is engaging from start to finish, and whilst it is very different to the majority of her other work in a plethora of different ways, it is, I think, one of her strongest novels.

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Du Maurier December: Interviews

For Boxing Day, I have compiled together four most interesting interviews about Daphne du Maurier and her work.  In The Paris Review, Sadie Stein talks of Rebecca, and the Telegraph muses upon how du Maurier came to write her most famous novel.  Kits Browning takes this further in this fascinating blog post, in which he talks of his mother’s autobiographical inspiration for Rebecca.  Finally, here is an interview with du Maurier herself on the Cornwall Guide’s site.