"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier was inspired to write Jamaica Inn by a tavern of the same name on Bodmin moor, and is a gothic tale comparable to her own Rebecca as well as the Brontës’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, from whom du Maurier took inspiration in her writing. It is set in 19th century Cornwall and shares the mystery-thriller genre of the first two but is also shot with an element of romance.

On a dreary November day, a coach rattles along the Cornish coast towards Jamaica Inn - a forbidding tavern owned by the vicious Joss Merlyn, a place where the locals fear to tread - bearing the newly orphaned Mary Yellan who is coming to live with her Aunt Patience. The unsuspecting Mary arrives to find that at the hands of her brutish husband, the landlord of Jamaica Inn, her Aunt has been transformed from the beautiful, carefree woman she remembered to a gaunt, terrified wreck. The Inn stands dark and forbidding on Bodmin Moor, and reeks of violence, fear and drink. Naturally Mary endeavours to rescue her Aunt from the Inn and her villainous husband, but in the process unwittingly becomes hopelessly ensnared in the plots of Joss and his accomplices. Her situation only becomes more grave when she feels herself falling for Jem, Joss’ younger brother, whom she dare not trust...

Once again, I was enthralled with du Maurier’s amazing writing skill; from the first sentence I was enraptured, and her descriptions of the creepy old inn, the rainswept Cornish coast and the chilly winter moors are gorgeous and paint a vivid picture. Added to this is a foreboding, dark atmosphere that looms over you as you read, creating a combination which means the narrative is never boring.  

The characters are vibrant and richly described and bear a great contrast to one another. The arch-villain, Joss Merlyn, is a formidable and terrifying foe - almost as scary as Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca - and capitalises on the dark and dangerous atmosphere of the novel. He is a vile man, but I enjoyed reading about him nonetheless; he is unpredictable and savage so I was afraid of what he might do next, and his treatment of others - particularly poor Aunt Patience - is a bit hard to swallow. Jem Merlyn on the other hand is a loveable scoundrel, and although Mary is initially put off by his less-than-noble profession - a horse thief - she feels herself falling for his roguish charms, but she dare not trust him considering his kin. As a reader, I felt myself liking him and wanting Mary to trust him, but at the same time not being sure if she should, and like her hoping throughout that he wouldn’t end up being wrapped up in Joss’ schemes! It is this total immersion in the plot and with the characters that makes Jamaica Inn such a great read, and is a testament to du Maurier’s pure skill as a writer and storyteller. Finally there is Mary Yellan, our heroine in this gothic Cornish tale, is not your average 19th century woman of literature - whose greatest cares usually revolve around finding an ideal husband:

“Mary had no illusions about romance. Falling in love was just a pretty name for it, that was all.”

Thanks to Mary Yellan’s tomboyish personality the romantic element of the book is not overbearing and is of a playful nature rather than sentimental and sickly - so even the most romance loathing readers should not be put off by this aspect of the novel.

Jamaica Inn is a concise, mysterious, scary story which is written beautifully and boasts a rich cast of imaginative characters. The pace is quick and it never meanders needlessly, the story itself is very atmospheric and full of suspense, mystery, horror and a sense of urgency due to the imminent danger. I really enjoyed it - in fact I like it almost as much as Rebecca - and I think this would be an easy novel for anyone to love.

Rating: 9/10

My other Daphne du Maurier reviews:

The Scapegoat

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