Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Mary Yellan travels to Jamaica Inn in the wilds of Cornwall to live with her Aunt Patience and her husband, Joss, after her mother's death. She doesn't want to go, and would rather stay in her home village, but she is fulfilling a promise she made to her mother before she died, and she refuses to break her word. From the first coach journey to the Inn, an ominous mood is created as the driver does not even want to leave her there, telling her tales of an evil landlord, and implying that no-one visits anymore, and everyone drives past without a second glance. Once at the Inn, Mary discovers the brutal attitude of her uncle for herself, and sees the downtrodden, shell of a woman her mother's sister has become, totally different from the last time she saw her.
There is obviously something illegal taking place at the inn on a regular basis, which Mary assumes is smuggling, with carriages arriving, and things being unloaded and stored in a barred room in the inn. She suspects it may be something more, especially on hearing (but not seeing) the presence of an unknown man in the Inn on the first occasion she is witness to these nocturnal activities. Believing it to be just smuggling, she initially covers for the landlord to the local magistrate,mainly to protect her aunt, who she has already decided she will extricate from her situation somehow. With her assumptions about smuggling, Mary has really only scratched the surface of her uncle's illegal activities, but she doesn't discover the true extent of his law breaking until he spills the beans when drunk.
Mary lives a lonely existence at Jamaica. She really only has two friends, aside from her aunt Patience, and she is so downtrodden, she cannot support Mary at all, apart from to tell her to humour her uncle, and not challenge him. She has a strong confidant in a local vicar, who she trusts implicitly and she is reluctantly drawn towards Joss' younger brother, Jem, although she never entirely trusts him. You can't really blame her for that, he does freely admit to being a horse stealer, amongst other things. Both of these men play a crucial role in the eventual outcome of the story, but not until there has been a few twists and turns along the way.
To all intents and purposes this is a fairly simple, gothic (almost mystery) story. What makes it special is the beautiful descriptions of the rugged Cornish landscape, which I can only assume is accurate, at least for the time. And it is not just portrayed beautifully, it is used to mirror the moods and emotions of the characters, particularly Mary. Obviously this tale takes place in winter, so it is cold and bare, and often raining. But this only adds to the ominous, almost fatalistic feel of this novel. Something bad is always around the corner.
The characters were also very well written. Aunt Patience (appropriate name I thought), comes across very well as a woman who has been so completely worn down by her husband, and is juxtaposed very well with Mary, who is determined not to let this happen to her. Mary as headstrong and independent, but not unrealistically so, as she realises as an unmarried woman, she really needs somewhere to live, as living on her own is not really an option. I short, I really enjoyed this, possibly not quite as much as Rebecca, but still definitely worth reading.