June Bookclub Review: Jamaica Inn

Monday 30 June 2014 by

Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier, Virago Modern Classics, BookJamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Published by Virago

Her mother’s dying request takes Mary Yellan on a sad journey across the bleak moorland of Cornwall to reach Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. With the coachman’s warning echoing in her memory, Mary arrives at a dismal place to find Patience a changed woman, cowering from her overbearing husband, Joss Merlyn.

Affected by the inn’s brooding power, Mary is thwarted in her intention to reform her aunt, and unwillingly drawn into the dark deeds of Joss and his accomplices. And, as she struggles with events beyond her control, Mary is further thrown by her feelings for a man she dare not trust…

~*~

For a famous novel, I’m afraid I guessed the premise of this completely wrong. Thanks to my father telling me that Jamaica Inn is the “most haunted house in Britain”, I had some strange notion that Daphne du Maurier’s novel would include some sort of ghost story along the way, or that Jamaica Inn would be spine-tinglingly spooky.

Rather, we are taken down the rabbit hole to a criminal and sinister world of ship-wrecking, horse-thieving, and smuggling. The looming Joss is a dark cloak of evil against Mary, who, as a protagonist, sways between strong and independent, and fearful and naïve with extraordinary ease. There is something quite unsettling about this – but more on that shortly.

So instead of a ghost story, we have a smuggler’s tale, with some bizarre romance thrown in. I’m afraid I’m going to hold my hands up, and admit that I was disappointed with it. I won’t take away from du Maurier’s pure class as a writer (the novel is tightly-written and expertly done), but I just can’t get on board with the story. The climax feels half-hearted, and Mary is a bit of a grey character that isn’t really best suited for carrying the burden of the plot.

From boiling fury and fierce independence, Mary lulls suddenly (and frequently) in to bouts of self-doubt, lethargy and even pining. She lacks the spark of character that is needed to be the hero of a tale, and falls victim to the stupor of a hazy character profile. There is never any certainty as to which side she stands, her values, or her intellect. She is quick to trust and quick to fear, brazenly naïve, and the only argument I see for her saving the day is because she believes she will. It makes for an unsettling read, because you fail to trust her.

Joss, on the other hand, is a powerful antidote to the fuzziness of Mary, and despite being a terrible person by all accounts, is perhaps the most convincing of the cast. Equally, it is the tribal, thunderous, furious scenes on the beach that are the most compelling in the novel. Jamaica Inn squats in the background, and fails to live up to expectations as this centre of great evil. Perhaps because I was secretly hoping that a ghost would appear, that when it failed to deliver, I dismissed it as a derelict building in which the scenes are set, not the hulking, spooky presence it was meant to be. There was no strength in it. In fact, the strongest presence of all in terms of setting, was the moor. It felt far more brooding and immediate than the inn, and du Maurier’s descriptions of it were just perfect. Like Wuthering Heights, the moor becomes its own member of the cast, and is the one thing to linger in my memory long after putting the book down.

My slightly disappointing experience hasn’t put me off trying more Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca is meant to be good), but as a first try, it was not the mind-altering moment I was hoping for.

What did you think of Jamaica Inn?

July’s House of Blog Bookclub is horror novel Nos4r2 by Joe Hill! Tweet your thoughts through the hashtag #HoBBookclub on Twitter or write on the wall on the House of Blog Facebook page.

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