Although previous to reading The Scapegoat I had only read three of Daphne’s works (Rebecca,The Birds and Other Stories and My Cousin Rachel), she is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. The main reason for this is her beautiful writing style; her words flow wonderfully, hypnotising the reader, and she allows you to become totally lost in her world, making her novels and short stories a real treat to read. She also has the rare ability to leave you hankering for more at the end of each chapter, without resorting to cheap, clichéd cliff hangers.
The premise of The Scapegoat concerns an Englishman, John, who is fed up with his dull life as a professor of French, and while holidaying in France he meets a Frenchman, Jean de Gue, who is his exact double. Fascinated by their uncanny resemblance, the pair go out drinking and John ends up passed out in a hotel with the mysterious stranger. When he awakes however, all of his possessions have disappeared - along with Jean de Gue! Dressed in Jean’s clothes, John is escorted to the château de Gue by the family chauffeur, Gaston, who brushes off John’s exclamations that he is not Jean de Gue with the notion that he must be drunk and raving. When John arrives at the family château, he is expected to run the family glass business and throw hunting parties - activities that John has absolutely zero experience with, as becomes evident (at times with comical results!). It soon becomes clear that Jean was in a bit of a pickle with numerous family members, his glass business and its workers, and that he saw an opportunity to run when he met his doppelganger, leaving the unsuspecting Englishman to act as a scapegoat for all his troubles. These problems are presented to John and to the reader through subtle intriguing hints and clues from the other characters as to what might be occurring in the household, and what might have happened to the family in the past. Obviously John can’t just ask outright what they mean when they say something he is unsure about, and when he first gets to the château he doesn’t even know who everyone is or where his own bedroom is, and this makes for an exciting read as you are eager to unravel the several puzzles that John is presented with.
It is necessary to suspend disbelief somewhat when reading this book. I found it a little difficult to comprehend how these two strangers could look and speak so similarly as to fool Jean’s entire family, particularly since the two don’t even share the same native language. I also thought that if I was John I would have tried a bit harder to convince Gaston that I was not the man he thought and tried to get to a police station as quickly as possible. I suppose John was so fed up with his old life that he thought Jean’s might be more exciting, and consequently felt that by usurping his place in the household he didn’t have much to lose even if things did go awry. Furthermore, it is possible that the police would have just thought him mad! Once you look past these things though, the story is decent and keeps you hooked and guessing how events will pan out right up until the very last page.
Like all of Daphne’s works I have read so far, this novel is beautifully written, which heightens the intensity of the situation Jean finds himself in. The characters are all brilliantly real and interesting in their own ways and you feel eager to know who they are and what relationship they have with Jean de Gue. I particularly enjoyed Marie-Noel’s character.
Despite the positives, which are numerous, the ending fell a little flat. This heavily damaged my opinion of the book, as for me poor endings tend to overshadow any previous goodness the book might have displayed. It was actually quite boring and left me feeling dissatisfied; there were several ways the novel could have ended which would have made for a much more thrilling and climactic dénouement.
So although a fabulous, well-written and intriguing story, The Scapegoat was ultimately lacking that ‘wow factor’ that made Rebecca so famous and popular, and the ending let me down. However if you are a fan of Daphne then I would definitely recommend this one as it has quite a different feel from both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, and if you like mystery I also think you would enjoy this. After all my only major qualm with this book was with the ending, and you might happen to like how everything gets wrapped up. Personally I think anything by Daphne du Maurier is worth a read if only for her writing style!
My other Daphne du Maurier reviews:
My other Daphne du Maurier reviews: