Check out books by Daphne Du Maurier

5 Books by Daphne Du Maurier You Need to Read - That Aren’t Rebecca

  • 6 min read

First published in Medium

 

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Most people associate English writer Daphne du Maurier with her most successful novel, Rebecca. And for sure, Rebecca, a masterful study of jealousy and sexual power, deserves to be well-known and beloved.

But Du Maurier wrote 16 other novels along with several plays, short stories, and non-fiction books. And many of these novels present the same kind of suspenseful plots and darker sides of human frailty that Du Maurier was so skillful in revealing.

These novels don’t get the same kind of airtime as Rebecca. But they should. For they are as utterly riveting and artfully written as her gothic classic.

However, if you’ve never come across any other Daphne du Maurier novels beyond Rebecca — don’t worry.

Below are five books by this writer that I think everyone should read. Not just because they’re brilliant books in themselves, but also because they give you a sense of the unique and original writer Daphne du Maurier truly was.

Jamaica Inn (1936)

Jamaica Inn is probably my favourite of all of Du Maurier’s books. A classic of the female gothic genre, it’s a tale of male menace and violence, particularly against women. It’s also tightly plotted and written, and an altogether thrilling read.

Orphaned following her mother’s death, 23-year-old Mary Yellan moves to Cornwall’s bleak Bodmin Moors to live with her Aunt Patience.

But Aunt Patience is not the lively young woman Mary once remembered. Instead, she is wraith-like, jabbering on incoherently, an obvious victim of abuse suffered, Mary comes to realise, at the hands of her brutal husband, Joss Merlyn, the owner of the titular Jamaica Inn.

As Mary gets to know her uncle, and witnesses the secretive meetings and visits to the tavern late at night, she assumes Joss and his equally drunken, violent cohorts are smugglers.

Mary also meets her uncle’s brother, Jem, and finds herself powerfully drawn to him. She berates herself for this, assuming that he too must be involved in the criminal activities of Jamaica Inn.

But these men are not mere land-based pirates handling stolen goods coming in from the Cornish coast. And Jamaica Inn is no swashbuckling romance.

Instead, it is a dark and sickening novel about male brutality and how far weak and violent men will go to satiate their greed.

Chillingly, it’s also a tale of how little we truly know — or are unwilling to see — the evil that permeates our world.

BUY IT HERE: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier - €13.05

The King’s General (1946)

If you are looking for something that is more swashbuckling, then The King’s General is a must-read.

Set in the 17th century, it tells the story of a country and a family torn apart by the English Civil War.

It also features one of Du Maurier’s most complex and courageous heroines, Honor Harris, easily my favourite of all her female protagonists.

The King’s General of the title is Richard Grenville. He’s a real historical figure and, at one time, the King’s General in the West of England. Harsh and abrasive in his manner, the Grenville of Du Maurier’s novel is not well-liked, except by Honor with whom he’s had a long-time love affair.

As the story unfolds, a mystery is revealed to be at the heart of Menabilly, the house where Honor lives (and — yep — also the setting for Manderlay in her earlier smash hit, Rebecca).

In addition, Grenville’s position under Charles I’s army becomes less tenable, while Honor finds that she can do much more than is often expected — or accepted — of a woman.

This is a historical romance, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re in for a frivolous romp.

Firstly, the novel is extraordinarily detailed, but not to the point that you feel like you’re receiving a history lesson. Secondly, Du Maurier uses startling gothic tropes and her understanding of the struggles within human nature to offer us a story that is both poignant and utterly gripping.

If you’re a history lover or just like good fiction, this is definitely one to move to the top of your TBR pile.

The Progress of Julius (1933)

The Progress of Julius (later just titled Julius) is Du Maurier’s third novel. It’s a polished portrayal of deep ambition at its ugliest.

The titular character, Julius, is born into a peasant family in a village on the banks of the Seine, Paris.

As a young boy during the Franco-Prussian War, tragedy forces him to leave France. Absconding to Algeria with his Jewish-born father, he later ditches that city too to make his fortune in London, England.

As readers, we follow Julius’s growth from cunning child to cocky youth and grown man, aware at all times that this is a person pitiless and greedy, capable of extraordinary acts of callousness in his climb to the top.

I will admit that halfway through the book I wasn’t sure I could spend any more time in the company of this heinous character. But, Du Maurier’s ability to weave a story that pulls you in no matter how much it unsettles you is her power, and so I persevered.

I’m glad that I did. By the end of the novel, I felt the heavy wonder of having witnessed the desperate and at times despicable life of a man unfurling in all its singularity from infancy to old age.

The Progress of Julius is a thought-provoking and chilling read, likely to stay with you long after you’ve reached the end of the final page.

The Scapegoat (1957)

The Scapegoat is easily one of Du Maurier’s most underrated novels.

A masterly exploration of double identity or, more accurately, the two opposing sides of us all, it’s the story of John, an ordinary, slightly dull Englishman, who comes face-to-face with his “doppelgänger”, a charming but roguish French aristocrat.

Tempted to taste the life of the other, they swap places. From here on the tension mounts as John discovers that all is not well in the life of his “other”.

Du Maurier’s ability to make us complicit in the rising stakes of a story’s plot is really at its best here. As a reader, riveted to the page, you urge John on to take the riskiest of chances to keep his true identity secret. And only later, when you step away from the book, exhausted from the tension, do you scratch your head and think “WTF?!”

My Cousin Rachel (1951)

My Cousin Rachel is the book I find most similar to Rebecca. This is probably because it’s another tale of sinister obsession and the power of — and hostility towards — female sexuality.Philip is a young sheltered Englishman, who receives the devastating news that his older cousin and guardian, the “crusty, cynical woman-hater” Ambrose, has not only married while traveling abroad to Florence, but has suddenly died too.

Suspecting that Ambrose’s new wife, Rachel, is to blame for his cousin’s demise, he vows to have it out with her when she makes the journey to meet him in England.But when Philip finally does meet her, he begins falling for her charm and beauty. As his obsession for Rachel grows, so too does his confusion as to whether she really is or isn’t involved in Ambrose’s early demise.

As readers, this confusion grows in us too. There’s a sense of danger that develops as the novel progresses — but which character is in danger? We’re never sure!

Du Maurier leaves the truth deliberately ambiguous. We see Rachel through the eyes of Philip — a seductress, a charismatic money-grabber.But Du Maurier leaves us breadcrumbs to another possible truth too. She shows us that Rachel is both physically and emotionally vulnerable — A small woman (smaller still against Philip’s large bulk), who has suffered her fair share of pain.

Who then, is being duped? Philip? Rachel? I’d hazard a guess and say that it is, in fact, us, the reader — and that’s what makes this novel such a smart and delicious read.

 

 BUY IT HERE: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier - €21,49

 

Click here to download our FREE Booklist of "100 Books by Women Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime".

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