Jamaica Inn - Daphne du Maurier (warning - contains spoilers)
Audiobooks are not a format I use on a regular basis. They have always been something I listened to in the car on my way to and from work in the days when I had a long commute, as they were the only way I could read safely while driving! Since I've been working and writing at home, I don't listen to them for purely practical reasons. If I'm writing I don't want the distraction and the rest of the time, the family are at home or I'm reading a physical book. However, I decided to use the morning dog walk to listen to a book set in the county I was walking through as I make way across the country. Jamaica Inn was the perfect choice - it's a book that's been on my 'should read' list for a number of years and I've read other books by Du Maurier and loved them. As anyone knows, a narrator can make or break a book and I'd read mixed reviews about this one, so I was a little nervous about the specific edition I'd chosen, but it was the only one that looked to be a completely unabridged version of the book and not only do I dislike abridged versions of anything, but I also knew it was going to take me several hours to walk across Cornwall and I wanted something that would last most if not all of the journey. As it happens, I'm in the camp who enjoyed his narration.
I'm starting this review before I've finished the book because I want to record my thoughts as I listen and so far I'm loving the book. Mary Yellan had the potential to be another Fanny Price and much as I like Fanny, I know that many people hate the character because she is 'too' good and I think that with a villain as black as Joss Merlyn, it would have been easy to create a protagonist who was bordering on angelic. However, Mary is not perfect. She does rash, irrational things that go against her logic, she falls in love with Joss' brother Jem and unlike many heroines in books set in similar time periods, she is not devoid of physical feelings. Although she has not acted on them so far (other than a few kisses) she admits to herself that she is tempted to spend the night with Jem. She doesn't follow through on her wishes, but does acknowledge that she regrets not doing so. Mary is a real person with real feelings that even a modern reader can relate to.
Like Mary, I like Jem against my better judgement. He is a thief, but an honest one and unlike his brother, he seems to have a gentler side and it's easy to see the attraction for Mary. I have no time for Joss and ironically, have no patience with Aunt Patience. I love my relatives and would always want to look after and protect them, but she is so insipid she inspires me to rage rather than pity. Perhaps however, this is reflective of my modern sensibilities (weak women in fiction drive me to distraction) and I need to be more understanding of her situation and the situation of women at the time. I want things to end well for Mary and Jem, but they have been warned that there is death in the future and it doesn't bode well for them!
I resume this post having now finished listening to the book. I'm not due to leave Cornwall until tomorrow, but couldn't wait until then to find out the ending!
I have absolutely loved this book and it's almost made me forget that I was doing exercise (almost, but not quite!). However, the ending initially left me slightly flat. There was no romantic declaration, no guarantee of happy ever after and at first I felt slightly cheated. BUT one of things I've had drilled into me over the last two years is that the characters must stay true to themselves. It's one of the things I've been very conscious of as I've been editing my dissertation and when I'd had a chance to consider my reaction to the way the story ends, I realised that although the ending did not satisfy my romantic sensibilities, it was 100% in-keeping with the natures of Jem and Mary. In not giving them a guaranteed happy-ever-after Du Maurier keeps the reader completely engaged until the very last word. The story will continue after the cover has been closed and that is the best ending a writer can hope for - it shows the reader has bought into their fictional world.