Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Myself When Young

Myself When Young by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1977
Format: Paperback, 176 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Daphne Du Maurier had a somewhat typical childhood with a-typical interludes. She was taught at home with her two sisters, was finished in Paris, and spent her spare time outdoors with her dogs or indoors reading. A-typically she was the daughter of a famous actor and was surrounded by playwrights and authors and other actors growing up. Therefore a flair for the dramatic was in her blood, and while she made up stories and kept a journal, it wasn't until she was a little older that she contemplated being a writer. She wanted a way to make a living that WAS NOT acting. Retiring and loving solitude over parties, when she finally started to venture to Cornwall her path in life was clear. Her path was to live in Cornwall and write... she just had to make that happen.

I don't want to make a sweeping generalization here, but it seems to me that all female British authors of a certain generation have 97% the same stories of their upbringing in print. This past year I read a lot about the Mitfords and their upbringing. A LOT. Daphne Du Maurier's upbringing could slot right in there easy as can be. I've never really thought overly much on the class system of England, but it can not be denied that people went in sets and you'd see the same group over and over again at parties and shoots. This leads to a sameness of experience in those certain classes. A certain Britishness that carries on as they finish their children in Paris, take jaunts for health treatments, Switzerland or Italy, visit Germany and hopefully not befriend too many people who will become or are Nazis, and then a nice family vacation spot to get away from it all and live the outdoor life.

The more you read these biographies, the more you gloss over. Ah yes, they are now in Paris and sneaking out, the right of passage of  British schoolgirls abroad, which movie will they see? Who will they kiss? Oh naughty they kissed a relative in secret. Now they are outdoorsy, to the hunt! I'm of two minds here. I find it reassuring that there was such a set way of life. So if I was dropped in a time machine during this epoch I'd be all set. At the same time how boring would life be? I mean reading Myself When Young felt like I was reading something I'd already read a long time ago and couldn't quite remember all the details because I'd heard it too many times and had started to consciously block it. What would you talk about with people who all had the exact same life experiences as you? The things that make life interesting are our differences not our similarities. Yes, our similarities might be what bring us together, but they aren't what keep us together. And they aren't what kept me reading this book.

Where Du Maurier differs from her peers is totally in creep value. While she doesn't mention her father much in this book, most likely because she exhausted the topic in his biography she wrote of him, little hints give you the willies. He's overprotective, overemotional, and why is she comparing how he kisses to another kiss she gets? You can see why the incest rumors started. Yet her father is nowhere near as creepy as her cousin Geoffrey. Geoffrey is responsible for her "sexual awakening" at fourteen, when he was in his thirties! Nothing "happens" till they are both older, but eww. Gag me with a spoon. You shouldn't be getting up to hanky panky with people related to you by blood. Especially people who are basically pedophiles, look to her cousins and J.M. Barrie for more proof! Though all this just seems to be water off a ducks back to Daphne as she says her family has a Borgia vibe. Ok, why not just start killing each other then. Please, it would be a relief to what you are getting up to.

But maybe all this human interaction didn't matter to Daphne and that's why it is water off her back. She never got on very well with others and is more at home in nature and with animals, so people can just bog off. Or the cynic could say her experiences with her family drove her from seeking solace with humans and she found comfort in nature. Either way you look at it it's her connection to nature, and to Cornwall in particular, that makes her work resonate. She understood the world around her and this translated into her writing. When you read her work, you are walking towards Menabilly, down that long and twisty three mile drive. You hear the crash of the surf and the cry of the gulls and the screams of the men as the ship goes down. The world around you is so present in her writing that you can't help but feel like you are there with her by your side.

And it's her writing that is when her life really begins. For pages and pages it's the same old story, but once she writes, and I mean really writes, sequestering herself away that, well, in one regard the book fails and in another the book succeeds. It fails because it's a headlong rush to the end and her marriage and the end of this book, but in another regard it's success because everything else falls away and it's just her words on the page that matter now. The stories bursting to come out that have become classics that I, among many other, have adored throughout the years. Who cares if this book is cut short, it was so that the other books could come into the word. She really had a calling to write, but until she found that connection to nature she was bottled up. She was more concerned with curfews and jaunts to Paris then finally setting about making a career for herself. Yet she did make it a career. She stopped faffing about and an author was there all along.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Carrie by Stephen King
Published by: Cemetery Dance Publications
Publication Date: December 30th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 250 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A modern classic, "Carrie" introduced a distinctive new voice in American fiction -- Stephen King. The story of misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge, remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of all time. Make a date with terror and live the nightmare that is..."Carrie""

Want a swanky limited edition of Carrie? No? Well, then there's no new releases at the bookstore for you!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Movie Review - My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel
Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Geraldine Chaplin, Christopher Guard, Charles Kay, Amanda Kirby, Bert Parnaby, John Shrapnel, John Stratton, and Richard Williams
Release Date: 1983
Rating: ★★★

Philip Ashley sees off his cousin Ambrose to winter in Italy for his health. Philip impatiently stays home and awaits Ambrose's monthly letters which are more infrequent then ever since he met a distant cousin of theirs, Rachel. Much to Philip's surprise he finally gets a letter from Ambrose saying the two are married. Shortly after, Philip gets a distressing letter telling him to hurry to Italy. On arriving Ambrose is dead and Philip is inconsolable by Rachel's servant and her dubious business associate Rainaldi. As for Rachel, she has left with all Ambrose's possessions, no one knows where. Philip returns home and soon Rachel is at his door, destitute. Philip soon develops feelings for Rachel and desires restitution be made to her for Ambrose never re-writing his will. But money flows through her hands like water, yet where is it going? Philip, blinded by love doesn't heed the warnings of others and is soon gambling with not just his heart but his health and his inheritance at the hands of Rachel.

I find it more then a little ironic that on the poster for this adaptation it says "to most men she was an angel - of death!" Why would I find this ironic? Well, for any movie or miniseries that is translated from a book there is the director's or writer's interpretation of what happens in the book and what it means. With a book written by Daphne Du Maurier you have even more room for interpretation because she lives in the grey areas with ambiguity being her friend. Yet this adaptation had a clear vision that Rachel wasn't a murderess or poisoner and that Ambrose died of a brain tumor, which was also the affliction that Philip suffered from. Therefore the poster is funny to me in that it is trying to shoehorn the adaptation to work with their programing. It was aired on Mystery, so therefore they must book it as mysterious, even if they don't hint at poisoning till the very end and then only half-heartedly. They would have been better off airing it on Masterpiece Theater for all the suspense it had.

But the nail in the coffin, so to speak, of why it is a brain tumor is what happens on Philip's twenty-fifth birthday. In the book he takes a late night swim in the ocean, despite how cold it is, and then drinks copious amounts of Rachel's tisane. Therefore his illness that is attributed to meningitis could conceivably be meningitis or poisoning, we are left with ambiguity. In this adaptation he spends a few days prior to his birthday clutching at his head, never goes for a swim, and then is seen in Rachel's room clearly NOT drinking his tisane. In fact I don't think we saw him drink his tisane once! So poison is definitely not the culprit. If anyone was a murderer it was Philip with his omission of the dangers of the sunken garden, which was far more obvious in this adaptation then in the book.

In focusing the story to the brain tumor versus the duality of the tumor versus the poison you see a paring down of the narrative. This was a very streamlined adaptation in many regards, despite being three hours in length. All the supporting characters who carry quite a bit of the narrative on their shoulders in the book are relegated to almost background artists status. The trio of Philip, Rachel, and Rainaldi are the only characters that matter here. By doing this the adaptation deprives us of great characters and depth that the book has. But in my mind all adaptations lose something in the translation no matter how hard you try. Here we are left with a story that doesn't quite work that decided to go for mood versus story. Instead of getting insight into Philip's change of heart we just see him on his horse, which he has a lot of trouble riding, watching Rachel from the bushes, like some kind of pervert. In fact, they turned the sex up to about eleven in this version, going so far as to show the implied sex between Rachel and Philip on his birthday.

Yet this mood over matter could have worked if the actors were better actors. Christopher Guard, who portrayed Philip, seemed to not have any range of emotion or facial expressions. Yes, he did conceited jackass well, which is basically all Philip is in my mind, but he had to have some range, because conceited jackasses do have mood changes. Him hating Rachel was the same look as him loving Rachel. It was very confusing therefore seeing when or why his feelings changed for Rachel as he was wooden throughout... As for Geraldine Chaplin as Rachel... she is an actor with mild talent and austere beauty that I think got the majority of her work because of her father, ie, Charlie Chaplin. Her accent is so odd in this that it's sometimes hard to make out what she's saying. This isn't helped by the bad sound quality either. At least I can say her accent was pretty consistently odd, but really, I don't know why she needed it. To make Rachel more mysterious? Sigh. I kind of wanted Rainaldi, played by the ever fabulous Charles Kay, to kill them all and run off to Florence with their fortune.

So you're probably wondering, why did she give this adaptation three stars (actually more then I gave the book) if it had all these issues? Aside from the fact that early BBC dramas hold a kind of special place in my heart for the bad sets, reused sound effects (yes, it's THAT ONE bird again), and great character actors, there is what I am now referring to as The Roday Factor. OK, so hopefully you all know who James Roday is. If you don't, shame on you! But I shall take mercy on you and do a brief explanation of the genius of James Roday. James Roday with Dule Hill starred on the much underappreciated USA show Psych, about a fake psychic who was a real detective, in a very unorthodox way. For eight seasons it was the perfect combination of mystery and comedy. Plus, for children of the eighties, it was a goldmine of Goonies references and random sing-a-longs. It was controlled chaos that would make me laugh more then any show out there and made me love James Roday.

About five seconds into this adaptation I voiced to my viewing companion that Christopher Guard looked remarkably like James Roday in certain lighting, to which he agreed. Sadly Christopher doesn't have the acting chops of James, but that's neither here nor there, because watching Christopher he was more and more James Roday's doppelganger. It was so freaky I could not stop laughing. Then I started imagining what this miniseries would be like if James Roday had done it inserting his humor and his acting skills, and this just entertained me more and more. The one scene where Rachel is baring her soul about the unsigned will of Ambrose, he looked so much like James I had to screencap it to show you a compare and contrast. A still image doesn't do it justice, but I think you can get the idea. Also, I think Daphne Du Maurier would adore this unexpected doubling. So in other words, watch this miniseries not for the acting or the interpretation, or anything else, watch it to see what it would be like if James Roday travelled back in time over thirty years ago to be a bad BBC actor.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas!

Daphne Du Maurier joins me in wishing you a Happy Christmas. And if you still haven't found me that perfect gift, might I suggest a copy of this book that Du Maurier wrote and which you can only get on ebay (hint hint).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review - Daphen Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1951
Format: Paperback, 335 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Philip Ashley is raised in the all male environs of his cousin Ambrose Ashley's estate. He grows up the consummate bachelor, the two of them reveling in the fact that they have no women to answer to or scold their slovenly ways. For his health Ambrose reluctantly leaves his Cornish home and Philip and goes to the continent to winter. On his second winter abroad he goes to Italy and meets a distant cousin of theirs, Rachel. Philip is shocked when he gets a letter that the two have married. He cannot believe that Ambrose has given up his bachelor lifestyle to chain himself to a woman, who while having similar interests, is still a weight around his neck. Philip and Ambrose's correspondence suffers and Philip starts to worry for his cousin. The most recent missive hinting at Rachel poisoning him arrives too late, as Philip arrives in Florence to find Ambrose dead and Rachel gone. Returning home Philip finds that Rachel has arrived in Cornwall. He begrudgingly allows his enemy shelter. But will his vow to avenge Ambrose be thwarted by his own heart?

One day I'm going to write a companion book for My Cousin Rachel and it's going to be called Just Rachel. Because if I read one more time "my cousin" before Rachel's name I'm going to scream. I know Du Maurier is showing the possessiveness of Philip in regards to Rachel, but there's making a point and belaboring a point. This is belaboring. By these two simple words Du Maurier is able to repeatedly bring home the fact that culturally, and very specifically in Philip's case, women are not worth anything, they are at best possessions, at worst objects of hate and derision. These two words are what is wrong with this book. It's not that Du Maurier does a bad job showing human frailties and prejudices, it's that Philip is so unlikable that I couldn't stand to read his thoughts.

Philip is problematic in many ways. He's an unreliable narrator, a trope that can be fun, but in this instance just leads to a few omissions that make him an even bigger douche. The main issue though is that he is an unlikable narrator. He was raised by Ambrose to be the consummate bachelor, able to cuss his way through the alphabet but unable to treat a lady right. But it's not just that Philip doesn't know how to treat a woman, I think he has an underlying fear of them. Women are a foreign concept to him, and a foreign woman, well, he has know idea what to do with this. So he mistrusts anything he doesn't understand. He is xenophobic in the extreme, besides being misogynistic. This rears it's head when he decides that Rachel must have poisoned Ambrose and is now poisoning himself, through her tisanes. Any reader of Agatha Christie knows the continental love of tisanes. But to Philip this must be viewed as the vehicle through which she promotes death because it is foreign to him.

Oh, Philip. You know nothing Philip Ashley. Why would Rachel try to kill you when if you die she looses everything? It's Philip's motives, not Rachel's, that should be what is in question here. While it seems he's being nice to his cousin, look closer, he's just trying to possess her. Never once does he see how precarious her situation is or how their relationship might be viewed by outsiders. He is oblivious to everything but his own needs and desires. With so many books being written exploring Du Maurier's other mysterious woman, Rebecca, I wonder why more hasn't been written about Rachel. She's far more sympathetic, and as for her ambiguous pastime of perhaps poisoning people with her tisanes... well, Philip could use a good dose of poison.

Yet beyond the narrative issues, so much of My Cousin Rachel just feels as if it's a retread of something Du Maurier has written before. The review pull quote on the back of my edition says "From the first page... the reader is back in the moody, brooding atmosphere of Rebecca." Well duh. Du Maurier had an obsession with Cornwall, and in particular a house there called Menabilly. This house, which she was lucky enough to life in for a few years, became Manderley in Rebecca. But it also became the Ashley estate, and was also used in her book The King's General. By using this place so much you just start comparing it to the other times she's used it. It's Menabilly in all it's forms. I know she loved this place, but seriously, another book set here? It looses the magic of the place by being able to be the home of so many stories. She immortalized it with Rebecca, and then she overstayed her welcome.

But we must never discount the timelessness Du Maurier was able to evoke with Rebecca and some of her other novels, they are today as fresh as the day they were written. Now I don't know if Du Maurier was aiming for the timelessness with My Cousin Rachel as the introduction by Sally Beauman attests, but if so, I feel it really failed in this instance. Timelessness to me means that a book taps into something universally human and can reach across time and still be relevant. So while some of Du Maurier's books, like Jamaica Inn and The Scapegoat, have a time period, they still have a timelessness. But not here. Not My Cousin Rachel. It doesn't work here.

By trying to be ambiguous it makes the time period somehow more relevant. Sure, Du Maurier doesn't come flat out and tell us when this was set, but from what happens in the book it's obviously early Victorian, when Albert helped bring in Germanic Christmas traditions and moved festivities away from Twelfth Night, but prior to his death because the mourning customs weren't as strict. So yes, this was just another mystery that Du Maurier threw in, and in fact was the only one that could be solved to some extent. She does like her ambiguity... but perhaps with everything in this book she took it a little too far?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Love from Paddington by Michael Bond
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: December 23rd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 144 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A brand-new novel from Michael Bond, celebrating Paddington's many adventures!

Told through Paddington's letters to his aunt Lucy back in Peru, this new novel offers Paddington's own special view on some of his most famous tales. Filled with Paddington's signature charm and with black-and-white illustrations throughout, this paper-over-board keepsake is a celebration of this beloved character."

Please for the love of all that is holy avoid that atrocious Paddington movie coming out this holiday season that is the stuff of nightmares and just pick up the newest Paddington book!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review - The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat
Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Matthew Rhys, Eileen Atkins, Anton Lesser, Jodhi May, Phoebe Nicholls, Andrew Scott, Sheridan Smith, Pip Torrens, and Julian Wadham
Release Date: 2012
Rating: ★★★

John Standing has lost his teaching job, Greek being thought archaic when conversational French is far more useful. That night in a bar he is mistaken for another man, a man that looks just like him. They spend the night talking, or as Johnny Spence views it, having a conversation with himself. Come morning Johnny Spence has fled with John Standing's belongings and Johnny's life is thrust on John. He never thought that he could slip so easily into a life of wealth and luxury, yet he seems to be doing just that. John slowly tries to repair the damage that Johnny has wrought to his own family and soon he realizes that he loves them all and wants to stay. But Johnny has other ideas as how to best use this unexpected boon that having a doppelganger gives him.

Now, as you probably know, I am an Anglophile in the extreme. I  long to live in "this scepter'd isle... this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!" During the Jubilee Year I sat on my couch at ungodly hours to watch flotillas and parades. Yet never once did I think, you know what would make a great paring? Daphne Du Maurier and the Queen's coronation. Because they exist in different worlds and never the twain shall meet until someone at itv went, hey, here's a wacky idea, why don't we take Daphne Du Maurier's The Scapegoat and make it for the jubilee! We'll strip out all the nuance of the story and totally ignore the fact that it's set in France and make it about "those who have greatness thrust upon them" therefore drawing a parallel between Queen Elizabeth and John Standing, who both have responsibilities they weren't prepared for foisted on them. Um no. This makes an interesting movie, one that can stand on it's own fine and works better that way because as an adaptation it leaves so much to be desired.

The Britishness that was thrust upon the story changes everything. The setting of the story in France was deliberate on Du Maurier's part. She not only wanted to explore her family's history of glass making in France but she wanted to deal with the issues of what scars are left behind within a country that collaborated with the enemy. The past and the present and the future of her characters all hinges on what was sacrificed because of war. John, living in a world without attachments, doesn't understand that everything in life is about compromises. The compromises we make with our friends, our families, and even our enemies. He stumbles about trying to find this balance between daughter, wife, mother, lover. His struggle and final acceptance is the driving force of the narrative, whereas the film version of John thrives after one or two missteps.

No secrets, just happiness. WTF! Has Charles Sturridge, the writer of this adaptation, ever actually read and understood any Du Maurier? It's ambiguity in the end all the way! What are we to learn about someone who takes up the offered mantle of responsibility and doesn't stumble? Nothing is to be learned! Sure, we can compare him to George VI and how he stepped into the vacuum left by his Nazis loving brother, but that's not what this book is about! There's nothing that gets my goat more then taking a book, and instead of exploring or expanding on one or another theme, they cram the book into what they want it to be instead of what it is. You can see why Du Maurier was always hesitant about anyone adapting her work; they just don't get it.

In fact if you look at the new setup of the plot, it doesn't work. John Standing is fired at the beginning of the movie and therefore has no life to go back to. Whereas the book's John has a life that his duplicate is currently living and destroying. Without a life to go back to why would he even care about leaving? Why would he want to go back to nothing? It doesn't make sense? Though none of the changes make sense because each change so drastically alters the story that it is truly an unstable house of cards. As for the wife's pregnancy... well, without it I just saw that house of cards starting to fall...

Yet what I missed most was that unease that Du Maurier's writing always captures. The oddities of humanity and the inability to define the grey areas of the human psyche. The most obvious example of character shift is in the young daughter, the very French Marie-Noel, being turned into the very benign Mary Lou. Marie-Noel was religiously devote and had visions and mortified her flesh, here we have a girl who has a funeral for a dead fish, a stuffed rabbit that says goodnight, and wants nothing more then to read Charlotte's Web, versus some saintly tract. Ugh, please. This isn't Du Maurier, this is Enid Blyton.

Each character is slowly stripped of what made them unique and interesting till we have these stock characters that could work in any story. The grey areas are gone. Neither John is a saint or a sinner in Du Maurier's eyes, yet this adaptation clearly wants to view the true John Spence the devil of imagination. He has nothing redeeming about himself, nothing worthwhile, he is pure evil. He beats his mistress, he tries to murder his wife, he takes his doppelganger out to the wood shed... he is a stock villain. In Du Maurier's world nothing is this simple, nothing is black and white. Nothing in this adaptation rings true the deeper you dig. Life isn't this simple and that's why Du Maurier's work endures, because it shows us all aspects of humanity, whereas this adaptation is less then a two hour diversion you will soon forget.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review - Daphen Du Maurier's The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1957
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

John has spent yet another holiday in France walking the history that is his passion and his reason for living. As he gets ready to return to England to teach yet another term at school he looks at all the people and wonders how apart he is from them and if his life of no connections is really a failed life. In the crowd he sees one face he didn't expect to see. His own. The two men, John and Jean, strike up a conversation based on their eerie similarities. They are true doppelgangers. The night is spent drinking and talking and come morning Jean is gone with John's identity, leaving the lonely Englishman an encumbered life filled with family and a failing business. Without really knowing what drives him to it John takes on Jean's life. The bachelor now has a pregnant wife, a daughter, a mother, mistresses, and a complicated life. But soon John doesn't want to leave this new life and if Jean were to decide to return, what would happen?

Daphne Du Maurier has always employed doubling and duality in her writing, but never so obviously as in The Scapegoat. Here she openly embraces the trope of people who have switched places. Though in lighter fare it is done willingly or comedically, as in The Prince and the Pauper, The Parent Trap, and Moon Over Parador. Here it is a situation thrust on John, combining the switching with a case of mistaken identity. Though in any other case mistaken identity would be easier to prove if you weren't the doppelganger of the man they think you are. By combining these two plot devices into one Du Maurier is able to delve into the darker aspects of who we are and what would happen if we tried to escape our life by taking up the mantle of someone else's. 

By having the opportunity of becoming someone else, someone known, what would you do? Seeing as Jean is the one who thrust this situation on John, it's pretty clear that he does this just to amuse himself, a humorous what if. But John, John is more complicated. By going along with Jean he is made complicit in this scheme he doesn't want. Yet being put in a situation where the repercussions fall on another's head means that for the first time in his life John is free of responsibility and guilt and is allowed to make mistakes and be taciturn or angry or whomever he chooses to think Jean is.

John's first embracing of the situation is the fact that he can't be held accountable. Du Maurier here is bringing up the darker nature of humans. What would we do if we could get away with it? For some people it would be anything and everything, theft to murder. Putting someone in this situation is testing their mettle. Given a free pass what would you do? It shows the goodness of John that after the initially heady response of being able to say what he really feels that he tries to better the lives of Jean's family. His deepest desires aren't dark and perverted, his deepest desires are to have connections, to have people to care for and love. At the start of his journey he can't come to terms with his driftless life. He wonders what does he do with failure. After spending time in the shoes of Jean he wonders what do you do with love.

John's question has changed, but the search for an answer is still there. That is what it is to be human. To always be questioning and searching. While John spends his time as Jean picturing him as this evil man who viewed the demands of family as the demands of his "captors" life is never this black and white. People aren't just good or evil, they are filled with grey areas. We have spent so much time with John that we see the world through his eyes now but it isn't till the end, that slight shift in perspective that makes us realize, John's point of view isn't the only one. Life is complicated and messy and we are left with questions, but it is never just black and white.

Speaking of someone living in the grey areas, Du Maurier spent most of her life, and a significant amount of her writing, not just dealing with these weighty issues of the nature of man but as an extended therapy session for herself. She viewed herself as two energies, male and female, which understandably makes her obsession with duality make sense. But there is another force that ruled her life and her work, and that is her father, the actor Sir Gerald Du Maurier. The relationship between Jean and his daughter Marie-Noel is a loving, yet odd and at times downright disturbing relationship. The scene where Marie-Noel asks her father to whip her... I defy you to find a more disturbing image then a grown man being asked by a small ten year old to be whipped for her imagined sins.

The question one is left with is how much did Daphne put of herself in her books? Her father was a dynamic and possessive man. They had a love hate relationship and he often wished that Daphne had been a boy, perhaps starting her duality issues. Incest was often hinted at. It is even believed that perhaps they shared a lover, Gertrude Lawrence. Whatever is and isn't true, one thing is certain, the creepy dynamic that they had is shared with Jean and Marie-Noel, further fanning the flames of what was real in Du Maurier's world and what was play acting.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Cat and the Moon and Other Cat Poems by The British Library
Published by: British Library
Publication Date: December 16th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Cat and the Moon takes its cue from Jean Burden: “A dog is prose; a cat is a poem.” A magnificently varied anthology, it includes poems featuring cats from Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, Walter de la Mare, and many others, celebrating fluffy kittens and mysterious night walkers, tormenters of mice and sleepy fireside friends."

A book about cats release by the British Library? It's a book made for ME!

Hope Rising by Stacy Henrie
Published by: Forever
Publication Date: December 16th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

In France at the height of World War I, American nurse Evelyn Gray is no stranger to suffering. She's helped save the life of many a soldier, but when she learns her betrothed has been killed, her own heart may be broken beyond repair. Summoning all her strength, Evelyn is determined to carry on-not just for herself and her country, but for her unborn child.

Corporal Joel Campbell dreams of the day the war is over and he can return home and start a family. When a brutal battle injury puts that hope in jeopardy, Joel is lost to despair . . . until he meets Evelyn. Beautiful, compassionate, and in need of help, she makes an unconventional proposal that could save their lives-or ruin them irrevocably. Now, amidst the terror and turmoil of the Western Front, these two lost souls will have to put their faith in love to find the miracle they've been looking for."

OK, yes, I requested to ARC for this because it's so Downtonesque... so perhaps you might see my review come February!

The Devil in Montmartre by Gary Inbinder
Published by: Pegasus
Publication Date: December 16th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When the mutilated corpse of a beautiful dancer is found in a Montmartre sewer, a nervous public fears that Jack the Ripper has crossed the Channel—but Inspector Achille Lefebvre has his own theories. Amid the hustle and bustle of the Paris 1889 Universal Exposition, workers discover the mutilated corpse of a popular model and Moulin Rouge Can-Can dancer in a Montmartre sewer. Hysterical rumors swirl that Jack the Ripper has crossed the Channel, and Inspector Achille Lefebvre enters the Parisian underworld to track down the brutal killer. His suspects are the artist Toulouse-Lautrec; Jojo, an acrobat at the Circus Fernando, and Sir Henry Collingwood, a mysterious English gynecologist and amateur artist.

Pioneering the as-yet-untried system of fingerprint detection and using cutting edge forensics, including crime scene photography, anthropometry, pathology, laboratory analysis, Achille attempts to separate the innocent from the guilty. But he must work quickly before the “Paris Ripper” strikes again."

OK, first a Jack the Ripper tale, sold there. But more importantly, the Inspector has my last name! So I have to read it because I must be related to this fictional Achille Lefebvre. Thanks to my friend Marie for showing me this book!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Miniseries Review - Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn
Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew McNulty, Sean Harris, Joanne Whalley, Ben Daniels, Shirley Henderson, and Andrew Scarboroug
Release Date: 2014
Rating: ★
To Buy

Mary Yellan's mother has died suddenly and she is forced to go live with her Aunt at Jamaica Inn because she doesn't want to take the offered hand of her childhood sweetheart Ned. Life at the inn is brutish and hard, filled with rough men and dangerous living. Mary has every reason to hate smugglers, as they killed her father, but soon she is one of them, part of a network hidden in plain sight throughout Cornwall. Jamaica Inn is a den of thieves and yet, despite her better judgment, she is falling for one of them, the younger brother of her uncle Joss, Jem Merlyn. The only place she knows safety away from the brutes and horse thieves is at the home of the local vicar, Francis Davey, where he and his sister Hannah offer Mary hope that her uncle will be caught and her and her Aunt Patience can forge a new life together. But no one is as they seem and everyone has some dark secret that haunts their dreams.

Seriously, this miniseries is not my fault. When I said I really wanted Jamaica Inn made into a miniseries after I first read it I didn't mean this! Let's go wreck a ship in broad daylight said no smuggler ever! Daphne Du Maurier is probably rolling in her grave right about now, but I'm sure after the Charles Laughton version she has no expectations at all and is used to disappointment. There is just so much wrong going on I was tempted on re-watching this painful miniseries to just do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 type review, but even that would have been too much effort and after a certain point there are so many major gaffe's that my brain shut down and I just tried to lie back and think of England while occasionally bemoaning the unlikelihood that anyone could get that much mud on their dress ever. Seriously. Was Mary rolling in the pig sty?

What is really grating is that this version obviously tried to keep the overall plot in tact to some degree but that it kept making little changes for no reason that kept adding up and resulted in changing everything. Now, I understand that this is an "adaptation" and that purity of the story is changed for a new medium, but seriously, why randomly make Mary have this long backstory with her father being killed by smuggler's but then have the twist that he was a smuggler!?! What does this add? Mary's mother hiding her illness from her daughter... it takes away Mary caring for her mother and showing what a strong independent young woman she is. In fact a lot of the changes chip away at Mary's independence. Instead of her not caring about love and wanting to return home to have her own farm, enter Ned, her love that was left behind that wanted to make a good wife of her. Ugh.

Why you're at it give Aunt Patience more of a backbone, make Joss less of a physically imposing giant of a man, add some new characters for no reason, change Harry the peddler from a creep and a rapist to a nice doddering smuggler. Oh, and why not take all suspense away and have Mary learn about the smuggling at Jamaica Inn in two seconds flat and have her helping out five minutes later! Then throw Jem in every scene you can, make Davey's housekeeper Hannah into his psycho sister, and on and on and on. Strip away everything little by little and what do you have? Three hours of my life I want back... or, by this point, six!

But nothing can ever beat the bad casting and dialect! The casting of Sean Harris as Joss is a joke. You need someone tall, imposing, like Clive Russell is at 6'6". But that is nothing to Sean Harris's mush mouth. I swear, I don't think he's actually saying real words. There's even a good chance he can't speak given the evidence of this miniseries. He is the worse perpetrator, but not the only one by a long shot! All the mumbling and grumbling of the dialogue led to a fair few complaints to the BBC back in April when this first aired, as in thousands of people called to complain. What the dialogue reminds me of most is that scene in My Fair Lady when Henry Higgins is filling Eliza Doolittle's mouth full of marbles and telling her to speak and enunciate and she can't. Everyone in this miniseries must have had a mouth full of marbles, it's the only explanation. The worst result of this is that the scene where Joss bares his soul and tells Mary that he is a wrecker, instead of coming across as riveting and horrific and sad all at the same time, it comes across as a mumbling drunk in front of a fire like a drunken uncle at the holidays you'd ignore. This direction and acting wouldn't inspire the horror in Mary, it would just be shrugged off as just another rant.

Finally, Mary Yellan herself cannot be exempted from the train wreck, or should I say shipwreck (oh naughty) that this miniseries is. She's supposed to carry the narrative on her shoulders and instead she spends all her time moaning and looking like she's constipated or drugged or both. Perhaps she's on drugs for her constipation? This role is yet another step in the downward trajectory that is the career path of Jessica Brown Finlay. Let's see where she went wrong. Firstly she's on like the most popular television series ever and she quits. Strike one, you don't leave Downton Abbey. Then she goes on to "star" in the cheesy television adaptation of the Kate Mosse book Labyrinth which was abominably boring and didn't even show up in the US till two years after it premiered in England to lackluster reviews. Next she stared as the fair damsel in the box office flop Winter's Tale, which didn't even make back one fifth of what it cost to make it and got an astonishingly low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn't know a movie could get only 13%! Oh, even better, top critics gave in only 10%! And then, oh joy of joys, came Jamaica Inn! Here's a hint. If you're going to leave a big show get something bankable as your followup, like Lily James and Cinderella. It's Disney! Oh, and she didn't have her character killed off so she can come back to Downton Abbey whenever she wants!

But underneath all that mud. Seriously, what's with all the mud!?! This adaptation got a few things right. Mainly they hired Matthew McNulty. A regular face for fans of Bill Gallagher's shows Lark Rise to Candleford and The Paradise, he is perfectly cast as Jem Merlyn. I defy anyone to make the phrase "come to market" sound sexier then he did. Also the duality of humans and their male and female aspects that Du Maurier wrote extensively about in the book was touched on with Mary crossdressing, which I thought was a nice touch. If only they had stayed true to the spirit of the text and stopped mumbling about things that didn't matter perhaps this would have been watchable. As it is you're better off turning off the volume and just pretending it's a nature documentary with lots of pretty scenery that occasionally muddy people walk through.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1935
Format: Paperback, 302 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mary Yellan abides by her mother's dying wish and leaves her farm and life behind and travels north to the Cornish moors. There she expects to meet her Aunt Patience, the bubbly beauty of memory, and her new husband, Joss Merlyn. Yet before she even sets out on her journey she has doubts. Mary thought that her Aunt lived a quiet life in a small town but she is told in a curt letter from Patience that she and her husband now reside at Jamaica Inn where her husband is proprietor. There Mary finds a shell of a woman and a terrifying brute of a man in a run down inn where travellers dare not stop. It isn't long till Mary starts to learn the reasons why Jamaica Inn is given such a wide berth. The wagons in the night. The rowdy men coming in off the moors. Mary starts to dream of a way out of her situation for herself and her aunt, taking what solace she can from wandering the moors. Though soon Mary learns how easy it is for history to repeat itself when she starts to fall for her Uncle's younger brother Jem. But this wrecked life she is living can not sustain itself and something has got to give.

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca are two interesting books to read back to back. At this precise moment in time these are the only books I've read by Daphne Du Maurier so far that aren't comprised of short stories. Besides being the only books by Du Maurier that I've read both Jamaica Inn and Rebecca are re-reads for me. Books can change greatly on a re-read; you see things you missed, you might notice the pacing more, you know the ending, if you can remember it that is, and therefore can pick up on foreshadowing. Your entire experience is different to the first time. What struck me most re-reading these books was that the pacing of Jamaica Inn doesn't lend itself to a re-read as much as Rebecca does. Jamaica Inn's pacing is a headlong rush into the world of smuggling where you briefly come up for air on a rare walk with Mary Yellan over the moors but on the whole the book doesn't let up till the last page.

But knowing what that last page contains makes the rush loose it's impact. You don't have that burning desire to get to the next page and the next. It's like you start running with intent but give up fairly quickly with a stitch in your side realizing it's not really worth the effort. Whereas Rebecca is more of a slow burn. Rebecca does have the constant force pushing you forward but it's more psychological manipulation, more subtle. Rebecca invites you to dwell and absorb the atmosphere, whereas at Jamaica Inn you're just praying you get out alive. Which makes me realize all the more that while I loved Jamaica Inn the first time I read it, it truly is and always will be Rebecca that is Du Maurier's legacy.

Despite not connecting to the story the way I did initially there is so much depth that I hadn't even guessed was there during my first headlong rush through the book that the story was interesting to me in a whole new way. Du Maurier herself figures very much into the themes expressed in Jamaica Inn. All her life she felt as if she had two distinct people within her, the female and the male. While this could just be her own way of coping with her bisexuality, I find it interesting that she uses her work, her writing, which she said came from her male energy, her "boy in a box," to explore these issues which are forefront in Jamaica Inn. Mary Yellan is an a-typical girl in that she is willing to do the work of a man and cares not for trifles such as love. This a-typicality is often viewed as masculine by those around her. I don't think I can count the number of times Mary said "if only I were a man" or someone said to Mary "if only you were a man."

What this duality does in Jamaica Inn is not only address that everyone has dual natures fighting each other, but it shines a light on the mores of the time. When Du Maurier wrote this book, over a hundred years after its action takes place, society was still a very male dominated sphere. Mary is masculine because she will not abide by what society thinks she should do. She doesn't want to sit by a fire and be a lady's companion. Mary would rather run a farm on her own and be the mistress of her own fate then fall victim to the conventions of the time. Much like Du Maurier herself who set out to be a popular writer in a male dominated industry. If they had to align themselves with their male half in order to succeed, more power to them. One can only wish we could live in a world where someone could succeed just by the value of their work, but the world is always putting us in boxes, so is it any surprise Du Maurier did it to herself?

The male versus female dynamic isn't the only duality seen in the book. There is also the thin line of repulsion and attraction. Like Darcy struggling in vain with his better judgement, it's a quick turnaround from hate to love. By all reckoning, Joss Merlyn should be a repulsive, horrid man, but there's a magnetism about him, like Mary you are drawn to this brute and fascinated by him. Mary could see why her Aunt fell for him all those years ago. Which is why I think Mary falls for Jem; a purer, untainted version of Joss. Despite seeing in her Aunt what her future might hold, Mary willingly, if begrudgingly, goes off into the sunset (or in this case over the River Tamar) with Jem.

But the most important duality is seen in man versus nature. I'm not talking about man's nature, but the actual air and sky and sea. Mary comes from the south, a place where nature is tamed, but the north, ah, nature isn't tamed. The sea and the marshes are shown to fell men in the blink of an eye. Jamaica Inn on that blasted moor is the last human bastion amongst the howling winds and great tors. Cornwall itself becomes it's own character in the book. Du Maurier is able to so vividly capture the landscape and atmosphere, you can see how Cornwall needed Du Maurier to tell this story and Du Maurier needed Cornwall as her muse. There's a symbiotic relationship that feeds off each other and brings out the best in both through this stunning story of man versus nature, and here I do mean every definition of nature.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: December 9th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.

Internationally bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s nail-biting new novel plunges us back into the dark and complex world of detective Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty—dubbed the Napoleon of crime” by Holmes—in the aftermath of their fateful struggle at the Reichenbach Falls.

Days after the encounter at the Swiss waterfall, Pinkerton detective agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. Moriarty’s death has left an immediate, poisonous vacuum in the criminal underworld, and there is no shortage of candidates to take his place—including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase and Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction originally introduced by Conan Doyle in “The Sign of Four”, must forge a path through the darkest corners of England’s capital—from the elegant squares of Mayfair to the shadowy wharfs and alleyways of the London Docks—in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

A riveting, deeply atmospheric tale of murder and menace from one of the only writers to earn the seal of approval from Conan Doyle’s estate."

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Anthony Horowitz? If not consider this your reminder. Also, the only new Holmes books sanctioned by Doyle's estate... just saying...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Movie Review - Rebecca

Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, Leo G. Carroll, and Alfred Hitchcock
Release Date: 1940
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Maxim de Winter has taken a new bride. After a hasty proposal followed by a hasty marriage in a registrar office in the south of France, the newlyweds are off to England and his great estate of Manderley. The second Mrs. de Winter feels lost and out of place there. She feels as if everything she does is being compared to Maxim's first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca whose initials are strewn all over the stationary, Rebecca whose room is keep as a shrine by the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca who could pull off class and wear a black dress and pearls without anyone batting an eyelash. And finally, Rebecca, whose memory sends her new husband into sulks and fits of rage. Will Rebecca be the end of them? 

My entire life I have had a little bit of a Hitchcock obsession. It could be that I'm drawn to great filmmaking with a darker edge, or it could be that I have embraced him because we share the same birthday, either way his films are the pinnacle of what cinema is about for me. For years I went back and forth between Rebecca and Rear Window as to which was my favorite of his films, that was until I saw Vertigo and it can now never be shifted in my heart as his true masterpiece. In recent years I've taken to watching Hitchcock movies on the big screen and only resorting to watching my DVDs if I can't help it.

For some reason Rebecca is never shown in these retrospectives at the various art house cinemas. This means I haven't seen Rebecca in many years now. It was an odd and jarring experience rewatching the movie. I've revisited my other two favorite Hitchcock films so many times that they have changed and grown with me, but Rebecca feels as if it belongs to a different me. I can still see the reasons I loved it back in high school, I can picture myself begging my parents for a copy of the movie poster for my room, and yet... and yet I see the flaws more clearly.

Of course, ideally you shouldn't finish the book, set it down and reach for the remote, that can never end well. And yet I did just that. Yes, despite knowing that this couldn't end well, I did it anyway. All that was wrong jumped out at me with more force then ever before, I wasn't charmed by the old film, I was baffled that I ever saw anything but a bad miniature as Joan Fontaine narrates the opening lines of the book. This isn't to say that the movie is a train wreck, far from it. It just doesn't compare to the depth you get in the book.

The truth is that this is a perfectly cast movie that suffers from not having enough time to do the story justice and not having the technology needed. You can see why they have mistakenly tried to remake it six times, because the movie has the potential but falls short. But all these other wannabes, they don't realize they can never ever match the greatness of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Seriously, Charles Dance as Maxim de Winter? NO! Whomever thought that, just no. They deserve to die with a bolt through the gut, if you know what I mean. In fact if you look at the scenes that are almost directly lifted word for word from the book, I'm thinking particularly of the scene where Maxim confesses to his new bride in the cottage in the cove, it enraptures you. The spark between the characters and the way it's shot, with "Rebecca" rising from the daybed. Some of the best cinema you will ever see.

But it's not just the spark between the leads that makes it perfectly cast. Fontaine has that wonderful bewildered look that she has mastered to perfection, but also she has such a gaucheness that you wonder at times if it's inexperienced acting, but when you get to the end of the movie you realize that it was a purposeful naivety, it's no wonder she was nominated for an Oscar for this role. As for Olivier, he is Maxim. There is no other actor that can ever do this role justice which again makes the flaws that much more obvious. As for Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers? The way she's able to keep that severe yet distanced look in her eyes that goes into crazy overload when she shows off Rebecca's room. I defy you to find someone who could do that as well!

One aspect of the movie that I had the biggest problem with though was something that they really couldn't control and that is that the movie is in black and white. Yes it did come out a year after The Wizard of Oz premiered in glorious Technicolor, but Hitchcock was never swayed by what he could do instead doing what he thought worked with the movie. Why else was Psycho in black and white? He must have thought that color was untried and that black and white adhered to the Gothic nature of the story. But that's what makes the book so unique. It is a Gothic story but there is riotous color in the book. The red flowers being a bloody reminder of Rebecca, the bluebells and the hydranga flowering in the woods and along the drive. There is such colorful life flowing from every page that it jars you to see this bleak world on screen. Yet another reason to space out your reading and your watching of Rebecca.

But hands down, the biggest issue I had was with the music. A lot of people I think don't take music into consideration in films and movies. It's just something there in the background that fuels the mood. Yet if it's done badly it jars discordantly and pulls you out of the moment. I am probably more aware then most people of this because my brother is a music nut and I've spent enough time around him that I am aware of music more often then not. I was overjoyed recently when I was able to successfully "hear" that Grantchester was scored by the same person who does Downton Abbey.

If you really want a shock, go back and watch some of your favorite movies from the 80s and you'll be in for a musical surprise, as your eardrums bleed. Rebecca's music is like a pendulum, either overly cheerful like you're skipping through a woods on a summer morning, or bizarrely ominous. There is no middle ground. The music is very bi-polar in this regard. You can see why later Hitchcock stuck to using composers like Bernard Herrmann, who were able to create memorable music that fit the movie and elevated it to another level. The very least Rebecca could do to improve itself was get a new score.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1938
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate... Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done."

As she looks back on the twists and turns that brought her to Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder how her life ended up as it did. She had resigned herself to an existence as a paid companion trailing behind whomever had hired her, the reprehensible Mrs. Van Hoppper being her patron at the time. That all changed when Maxim de Winter entered her life in his fast car. He was in the south of France fleeing the memories of his dead wife Rebecca and the one thing that blotted her out was the young girl who would become his second wife. Yet perhaps their union was foolish, or Maxim's dream to return to Manderley was unwise. Because their life is haunted by the memories of his first wife, Rebecca. The spectre that is hallowed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and is a constant comparative presence for the new wife. Could Rebecca destroy their happiness from beyond the grave? Or will it need a little assistance from Mrs. Danvers?

When I was young my mother subscribed to The Franklin Library Mystery Masterpieces. Each month a new book would arrive and we'd set it in pride of place on our console bookshelf that housed our most prized possessions, this being the eighties it mainly housed records and our record player. The little nine year old that I was loved that each month another volume would come and expand the display on that orangey wood that just glowed with an inner light. Then one day The Franklin Library sent us the biggest box I had ever seen. They were discontinuing the Mystery Masterpieces and they sent us the remaining volumes all at once. At this time we probably had only ten volumes, so forty-two books showed up one day to our great astonishment and delight.

Until this past summer these books have been packed away as space was scare; all but a few choice volumes. But when I was young I loved to spend time reading the spines and looking at the pictures and wondering what the books were about and making up my own stories, especially about The Thirty-Nine Steps, which really disappointed me when I found out what it was really about. When they first arrived I was too young to read most of the titles, and when I was older I was too into movies to bother with books. That all changed. Obviously. But Rebecca, the movie, was like a gateway drug. I adored the film and then I looked on our shelf. There was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, one of the first books we'd gotten in this series, after the obligatory Agatha Christie volume that is. This particular edition would make it's way into my library and my heart.

Rebecca is that rare book that cries out to be read and re-read over and over again. The opening line that transports you, like a dream, to Manderley. You can get lost in the happy valley among the flowers and never want to return from those magical pages. But I don't think that you truly get the book's greatness without knowing the context of Du Maurier's world, mainly her obsession with the Brontes. This is much in the vein of why people don't realize the genius of Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of the Gothic genre, not "serious" like Austen's other books! Du Maurier's first book, The Loving Spirit, takes it's name from a poem by Emily Bronte. More then twenty years after writing Rebecca her misguided biography on Branwell Bronte was published and forever secured her connection to them. Therefore the echoes of Jane Eyre that haunt Rebecca should not be thought a surprise or the least bit unintentional. Du Maurier was writing a new classic that would pay homage to and reflect Jane Eyre. A Jane Eyre for modern sensibilities, if you will.

Just look at the similarities. The naive young girl ready for love, the misanthropic hero, the crazy wife, the destructive fire. What amazes me is that if you look at just the building blocks of these books they should be eerily similar, yet they aren't. Each book is a classic in it's own right, but the ghost of Jane Eyre isn't the only ghost that Rebecca tackles, after all there is Rebecca herself. While there is that chilling line delivered by Mrs. Danvers "Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" What we think of as ghosts can take many forms. There are no spectral apparitions here, no things that go bump in the night, but that doesn't mean Rebecca doesn't haunt Manderley.

Rebecca recurs persistently in the consciousness of the second Mrs. de Winter causing her distress and anxiety, but she is also the bosom friend of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers, more then anyone, works to keep Rebecca alive and in doing so makes her spectre part of the foundation of Manderley itself. This is an interesting conceit on Du Maurier's part, because really, this is a ghost story without a ghost. The memory and emotion left behind is what haunts us, and if anyone could do this, it's Rebecca. As Captain Jack Harkness said on Torchwood, "Human emotion is energy. You can't always see it or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well there was. There always is."

Yet Rebecca isn't the only ghost. There's another person who haunts Manderley, she is always there, ever present, but in the shadow of Rebecca. I am of course talking about the second Mrs. de Winter. She is but mere shadow, a trace, a semblance of a person. She in fact has no name but that which Rebecca had, Mrs. de Winter. This is the most fascinating aspect of the book and many others have discused it's importance, that the heroine has no name. One result of this namlessness is that she is a ghost, a cipher, a way to tell Rebecca's story through new eyes but without complicating the matter by creating a character with backbone.

Of course this is a two edged sword, on the one hand Du Maurier is pushing the second Mrs. de Winter into the background, but on the other hand by creating a blank slate, a character who has no real "character" we are able to put ourselves more easily into her shoes. This literary trick, I mean, really, I want to stand and applaud Du Maurier. By giving use this conduit there are so many ramifications to the narrative. By being one with the second Mrs. de Winter you therefore embrace Maxim, her husband, and therefore not just identify but condone his actions. The genius of Rebecca is that Daphne Du Maurier has made you complicit in murder and you loved every second of it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Du Maurier December

Every year when the days start to close in and the snow starts to fall I have this deep seeded urge to read Daphne Du Maurier. Bleak tales that are the modern equivalent to the Brontes just fit with long nights and ice covering the windowpane. When I was younger the movie Rebecca was one of my favorite films and my mother's copy of the book in her Franklin Mystery Library was one of the first books I pilfered for myself from among that set (which is slowly but surely making it's way to my own shelves). Because obviously once my loopy high schoolish signature was in that book it was mine. I only knew of two other books she had written, My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn, which I eventually tracked down and placed on my shelf. The little purple paperback of Jamaica Inn looking more then a little woeful next to the gorgeous edition of Rebecca. I never thought there was more to her then these few volumes. I didn't even know that the movie The Birds was based on her short story till years later!

The reason for this ignorance is that Daphne Du Maurier has never really had her books released in the United States. So, like me, most Americans figured she was a one hit wonder. Little did I know that she wrote almost forty books! Many of them classics in England. I still remember that day I was at the west side Half Price Books and there on the shelf where all these books I had never heard of by her. Quite literally a whole shelf of Du Maurier (properly shelved under "D"). I was flabbergasted by the appearance of all these lovely paperbacks published by Virago. I bought the lot and have slowly been trying to complete the collection. Only ten more to go! But despite having all these books to hand I rarely have the time to just pick a book up for fun, my reading being decided by my blog and my book club (four months of putting Rebecca in the hat to no avail!) Therefore, theme month time! Because my love of Du Maurier was ignited by my love of Hitchcock's movie I thought it would be fun to review both one of her books and then one of that book's adaptations each week. What would usually be a bleak month glutted in holiday cheer is now truly  a time to rejoice... even if it is rejoicing in bleak, mysterious, Cornish ways.

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2014
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Abigail Foster is the practical daughter. She fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry, and the one man she thought might marry her seems to have fallen for her younger, prettier sister.

Facing financial ruin, Abigail and her father search for more affordable lodgings, until a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play...

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem acquainted with the manor's past, the only information they offer is a stern warning: Beware trespassers drawn by rumors that Pembrooke Park contains a secret room filled with treasure.

This catches Abigail's attention. Hoping to restore her family's finances--and her dowry--Abigail looks for this supposed treasure. But eerie sounds at night and footprints in the dust reveal she isn't the only one secretly searching the house.

Then Abigail begins receiving anonymous letters, containing clues about the hidden room and startling discoveries about the past.

As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?"

The title alone makes it all Jane Austen-y and a must read!

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London’s wiliest detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, are back on the case in this fiendishly clever new mystery. And when a cemetery becomes the scene of a crime, neither secrets—nor bodies—stay buried.

Romain Curtis sneaks into St. George’s Gardens one evening with his date, planning to show her the stars. A centuries-old burial ground, the small, quiet park is the perfect place to be alone. Yet the night takes a chilling turn when the two teenagers spy a strange figure rising from among the tombstones: a corpse emerging from the grave. Suffice it to say that wherever there’s a dead man walking, Bryant and May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit are never far behind.

As the PCU investigates the sighting, a second urgent matter requires their unusual brand of problem-solving. Seven ravens have gone missing from their historic home in the Tower of London, and legend has it that when the ravens disappear, England will fall. Bryant has been tasked with recovering the lost birds, but when Romain is suddenly found dead, the two seemingly separate mysteries start to intertwine and point to a plot more sinister than anyone could ever imagine.

Soon Bryant and May find themselves immersed in London’s darkest lore, from Victorian-era body snatchers, to arcane black magic, to the grisly myth behind Bleeding Heart Yard, a courtyard long associated with murder. And as the body count spikes and more coffins are unearthed, they will have to dig deep to catch a killer and finally lay these cases to rest.

Darkly funny and fast-paced, Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart is a brilliantly twisting puzzle, conjured from the inventive mind of Christopher Fowler."

If I didn't already have a soft spot for this series the cover would sell be entirely. Cats man! CATS!

Once Upon a Grind by Cleo Coyle
Published by: Berkley Hardcover
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When coffeehouse manager turned amateur sleuth Clare Cosi roasts "magic" beans for a Fairy Tale Fall event, she brews up a vision that leads to a sleeping beauty in Central Park; a big, bad wolf of Wall Street; and an East Side enclave with storybook secrets...

Fairy tale fever has descended on New York City. Broadway fans are flocking to Red Riding Hood: The Musical; museums are exhibiting art inspired by the Brothers Grimm; and Clare Cosi and her merry band of baristas give their coffee truck a "Jack and the Beanstalk" makeover for a Central Park festival. Clare's coffee hunter ex-husband contributes a bag of African beans with alleged magical properties. His octogenarian mother entertains customers with readings of the grinds, but Clare remains skeptical--until she receives a vision that helps her find a young model's body in the park's woods.

The police dismiss "sleeping beauty" as the victim of a drug overdose. Then Clare uncovers evidence that points to a list of suspects--from a New York Giant to quite a few wicked witches--and a cold case murder that reaches back to the Cold War. Now Clare is really in the woods with a dangerous predator on her heels and an investigation that leads from a secret Prince Charming Club right back to her own NYPD detective boyfriend. If she doesn't solve this mystery, those magic beans predict an unhappy ending."

This one is for my friend Paul who loves this series. And yes, I promise to read it this year!

Suspicion at Seven by Ann Purser
Published by: Berkley Hardcover
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lois Meade has done enough buffing and polishing over the years with her cleaning business, New Brooms, to know that all that glitters is not gold. So when a bag of costume jewellery is the main clue in a murder, she has a strong suspicion that appearances may be deceiving…

After a woman is discovered in the Mill House Hotel, strangled with a silver necklace beside a bag filled with faux silver, gold and pearls, costume jewelry dealer Donald Black seems like the obvious suspect. But Lois knows Donald's wife, who runs a baker’s shop near the hotel, and can’t believe her husband could be a killer. Plus, Donald has an airtight alibi.

Nevertheless, Donald is no angel. It appears he’s running a pyramid scheme, and Lois’s mother is getting sucked in. Could the murder have anything to do with his unscrupulous business practices?

As Inspector Cowgill and Lois hope the bling may shine a light on the killer, the discovery of a second body on the old waterwheel in the hotel may be grist for the mill in solving the murder—if they can manage to catch the culprit without getting the runaround."

And this one's for my mom, who adores Ann Purser!

Spell Booked by Joyce and Jim Lavene
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: December 2nd, 2014
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The national bestselling authors of the Missing Pieces Mysteries summon up the first Retired Witches Mystery in a brand new supernatural series...

Once upon a time in Wilmington, North Carolina, three witches ran a curio shop named Smuggler’s Arcane. But as the years passed, their magical powers started to fade—leaving them no choice but to conjure up a retirement package…

Before they could blink their eyes or twitch their noses, Molly, Elsie, and Olivia somehow became eligible for AARP. But they can’t fly off to Boca Raton just yet. First they must give up their magic, recruit and train three new witches, and pass on their cherished spellbook.

They’ve barely begun to consider potential practitioners when Olivia winds up dead and their spellbook is stolen. To honor their friend and reclaim their spells, Molly and Elsie are about to go wand-to-wand with a dangerous young witch more powerful than the trio was in their prime. And this time they’re going to need more than magic up their sleeves…"

And this one's for me! Because it looks like a fun new cozy series about witches! Perfect for the long winter in Wisconsin!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

George Mann Q&A

So, instead of inflicting more of my dream casting on you I thought perhaps you might want to hear a little from the author himself to whom the month of November has been dedicated. So without further ado, I bring you George Mann!

Question: The first memorable book from you childhood often extends its influence throughout your life. What is your favorite book that you re-read a million times from when you were little?

Answer: I was a very lucky child, in that I was read to extensively from an early age. I had the Hobbit, the complete Chronicles of Narania and all sorts, all before the age of 6. So I think I absorbed a lot of that, and it’s all still in here, somewhere.

A formative book for me, though, was The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. That was a real revelation. I’ve always considered it one of the first great science fiction novels, and I adore how the aliens are defeated at the end by the common cold, rather than the Victorians themselves.

Question: You have created your own vigilante superhero with The Ghost. What was your favorite superhero growing up?

Answer:  It’s always been Spider-Man, and, to be honest, is still is. There’s something about the web-crawler that’s always appealed to me. I think it might be because, at heart, he’s just a normal, geeky guy, who saves the day because he has to, and because no one else is going to do it. In many ways he’s similar to the Doctor in that (see below) – he finds himself in these perilous, fantastical situations, and although he’s handy with his fists, it’s usually through intellectual endeavour that he saves the day. At least, in my favourite stories.

Of course, I’ve always been a huge fan of Batman, too. I prefer him in his ‘dark detective’ mode, stalking the streets of Gotham to solve crimes in a way the police aren’t able.

Question: Growing up what was the television show that you most anticipated every week and why?

Answer: I think you know the answer to this one…it was definitely Doctor Who. It was just so different from everything else at the time. Weird, wonderful fantasy that had a huge and lasting impact on my psyche. I loved how the Doctor would just stumble into these amazing, colourful adventures, and always win the day through cleverness, charm, or wit. It was real fuel for the imagination.

Question: Victoriana and sensational supernatural stories are really making a comeback with shows like Ripper Street and Penny Dreadful. Why do you think people are continually drawn to these subjects?

Answer: I think it’s because the Victorian period is now distant enough to seem unknowable and strange (and therefore fertile ground for sensationalising), but at the same time close enough that it still feels half-familiar. I also think there’s something about the fact that the Victorian era feels like the borderlands between the modern world and the past, science vs superstition. There was a clear preoccupation with ‘occult science’ and superstition in that age, and a view that anything was possible, if only we could find the means to achieve it. Science would prove the existence of the spirit world, that sort of thing. So again, it’s great material for a writer to get their teeth into.

Question: You've written 34 books this year, or at least it seems that what with a new book on the shelves every few weeks. Seriously, when do you not write?

Answer: Ha! I’m always writing. At the same time, though, some of that is to do with scheduling and just a coincidence of when the books are published.

I do have trouble stopping, though. Some would say it’s an affliction. I’m not happy unless I’m working on a story of some kind, in one medium or other.

Question: With the future of traditional publishing avenues in limbo many writers are turning to self-publishing. What do you make of this trend, the advantages and the pitfalls, and how will it affect traditional publishing?

Answer: Well, first and foremost I’m a big believer in the adage ‘everyone needs an editor’. I think that editor can take many different forms, but you need someone who can cast an impartial eye over your work, who knows story and structure, and who will be honest with you about the quality of what you’ve written. That’s very important, I think. So I’d never want to dispense with that.

I think digital self-publishing has a place, though. I love the idea of serializing a Newbury and Hobbes story at some point, for example, over a number of parts, like an old story paper. And clearly people are making a great success of it. Personally, though, I find the interactions I have with my publishers very, very helpful. And it helps to have a team of salespeople and publicists working on your books – if I had to do that stuff myself it would never happen, and I wouldn’t sell any books!

Really, for me, it comes down to the fact that I’d rather be writing new stories than worrying about formatting an ebook, promoting and selling it, etc etc. But I know it’s a great tool for other people, and I’d never rule it out.

Question: When you started writing the Newbury and Hobbes series did you intentionally write them as Steampunk or did you just write what you felt and it fit perfectly in the Steampunk Genre?

Answer: I’m not even sure they are steampunk! (Shock! Horror!). I definitely didn’t set out to write in any genre. In fact, The Affinity Bridge was quite the opposite. I’d spent years trying to write a big, sprawling space opera, because I thought that was the genre I should have been writing in, and it was so depressing. I just wasn’t getting anywhere with it. I wrote The Affinity Bridge for me, and just threw in everything I was interested in or loved. They’re Victorian fantasias, really, rather than steampunk. There’s not very much punk about them. They were the aesthetics of steampunk, sometimes, but they’re at least as concerned with the supernatural.

Question: With your books being interconnected we have had glimpses of the future of many of your beloved characters. As for the Newbury and Hobbes Series specifically, do you have an end in sight or is your plan to just keep writing? And when will we see The Revenant Express?

Answer: I tend to work in story arcs, rather than planning to the end of the series. So the first big N and H story arc will end in book 6, but I have no intention of retiring them. They may have a little break, but I have lots more stories to tell, if people want to keep reading them. I might also go back and write some more stories with Newbury and Templeton Black, as I enjoyed writing ‘The Dark Path’ very much.

There’s a whole bunch of N and H stuff happening next year. I’m really excited about it. New stories in three different mediums! The Revenant Express is one of them. The others, I can’t quite reveal yet. But soon!

Question: Many authors don’t think of their characters in terms of actors, but I’ve been having a little fun doing the dream casting for the hopefully one day forthcoming miniseries (fingers crossed) and I was wondering if you’ve ever thought of who could bring your characters to life?

Answer: Ha! Yes, I’ve been watching your casting with interest. I don’t feel I can say too much about casting at the moment, for reasons that will become clear later (and it’s not a TV series, alas – at least not yet), but I will say that I originally had Tom Ward in mind when I first wrote about Newbury.

Question: With the hugely successful Engines of War you are the first writer to tackle The War Doctor. How did it feel to be basically given a Doctor with a blank slate (well, minus that stuff in “The Day of the Doctor”)?

Answer: Oh, it was amazing! A dream come true, in fact. A little daunting, but so exciting, and so inspiring. I still can’t believe what they allowed me to get away with in that book. To this day, I still can’t quite actually believe it happened.

Question: In my opinion it’s unfair to ask people who their favorite Doctor is (how can I ask someone to choose when I can’t choose between Tom Baker and Matt Smith myself), so I’ll give you a twist, who is your favorite Doctor to write for? It can be one you haven’t written for yet.

Answer:  I enjoyed writing for the Eleventh Doctor a lot, but really, it has to be the War Doctor. I had SO MUCH fun with Engines of War. I’ve always wanted to write for the Eighth Doctor too. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity at some point.

Question: You are now showrunner for Doctor Who, we won’t go into details as to how you secured the job, there may have been a cage match to the death with Moffat and Gatiss, that is unclear, but what are the top three changes you would make?

Answer: That’s a tough question. I really don’t know! Bring in more new writers, perhaps. Introduce a new male companion, maybe someone who isn’t a love interest of one of the leads. Try to persuade the BBC to do additional Easter and Halloween specials. More two-parters. I don’t think there are any silver bullets and I think it must be one of the hardest jobs in TV.

Question: What’s next for George Mann? 

Answer: The Revenant Express! Finally! And a bunch of other exciting N and H projects, as mentioned earlier. A new Ghost novel, Ghosts of Karnak, some more Doctor Who, and maybe some new things that I’m toying with at the moment…

Question: Favorite movie you’ve seen this year?

Answer: Guardians of the Galaxy. Without a doubt.

Question: Point Break or Bad Boys 2?

Answer: Point Break. I’m not sure I’m even aware of Bad Boys 2!

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