Thursday, April 29, 2010

All Things Daphne

As readers of this blog will know, I've been having an unplanned Daphne du Maurier revival of my own but I've recently found out that others in the book blogosphere had the same idea. Cornflower is hosting a book read of My Cousin Rachel on May 22nd, so I'm saving my review of that book till then. Also Chris at book-a-rama  is hosting a Daphne Du Maurier Challenge running from April 2010 to May 2011 so do check out her blog for more details.

Daphne du Maurier is certainly one case where the author's life is just as fascinating as her books. On the surface, Daphne can be said to have led a charmed life. She was born in 1907 into a lively and artistic family. Her father was the actor/manager Sir Gerald du Maurier who also wrote the classic novel, Trilby. Her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actress. Daphne grew up in a large and happy London household where friends such as J.M.Barrie and Edgar Wallace visited often. She was only a teenager when her uncle, a magazine editor, published one of her stories and got her a literary agent.  In 1932 Daphne married Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Browning II, who was knighted for his service in World War II. They were married for thirty-three years and had three children. They lived in a fabulous house in Cornwall called Menabilly which was the inspiration for the Manderley house in Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier was made a dame in 1969 for her literary distinction. She died in 1989.

Though it does seem like she led a charmed life there is evidence that Daphne had an unhappy marriage where both parties were unfaithful. In 1947 Daphne fell in love with Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, who remained her lifelong friend, She also had an affair with the actress Gertrude Lawrence. Her bisexuality was only disclosed after her death and is portrayed in the BBC film, Daphne. Interestingly enough, it was also recently revealed that she has a moratorium on her adolescent diaries. They can only be opened fifty years after her death. There's speculation that the diaries expose a young adolescent affair with a married man or maybe not. Kits, Daphne's son, believes that it's just filled with mundane stuff. "I think it's a tease," he said. "She loved mystery." You can read more about this at a Times Online article here.

For those interested, I also found a interesting article about how she wrote Rebecca (link here)  at the Telegraph website. Below are some pictures of Daphne du Maurier.

Daphne at the staircase at her beloved home, Menabilly which was the basis for the Manderley house in Rebecca

Daphne with her son Kits

Daphne with her husband and three children

Daphne writing at her desk in 1944 at Menabilly, the house in Cornwall which was made famous by her 1938 masterpiece Rebecca

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Book Revisited: Rebecca

A Book Revisited is an on/off weekend series hosted here. If you'd like to join the meme, just grab the image above and post about a book you've read in the past that (as far as you know) has had zero or little mention in the book blogosphere. It must be a book you enjoyed and recommend. I understand that it's sometimes not possible to remember everything about a book you've read years ago so just write a brief summary or review and leave a link in the comment section below.

Since I've been having a sort of unplanned Daphne du Maurier revival of my own, I thought I'd choose Rebecca for today. It's one of my favourite novels and probably one of the best books ever written. From its very first sentence, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," du Maurier draws you into this hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable novel. 

Rebecca (1938) is a romantic and psychological mystery novel about secrets in a house called Manderley. When the young and naive unnamed narrator moves to Manderley after her whirlwind marriage, she finds a house filled with memories of the beautiful and elegant Rebecca, the first Mrs. DeWinter.

"When the leaves rustle, they sound very much like the stealthy movement of a woman in evening dress, and when they shiver suddenly and fall, and scatter away along the ground, they might be the pitter, patter of a woman's hurrying footsteps, and the mark in the gravel the imprint of a high-heeled satin shoe." (page 9)

The hostile and frightful housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers has an obsessive love for her dead mistress and treats the new Mrs. DeWinter unkindly further propelling the young girl's insecurities. Meanwhile, Maxim, Mr.DeWinter, is secretive and distant. Rebecca may be dead but her presence permeates the house in forbidden rooms and chilling passageways. The tension escalates as the new Mrs. DeWinter slowly starts to unravel the truth about Rebecca while at the same time growing in confidence and maturity.

As usual du Maurier writes wonderfully in her beautiful and expressive prose. I can't praise her genius enough. With Rebecca she has managed to write a book where the main character is already dead. How clever is that? The plot twists and turns but du Maurier manages it all beautifully never abandoning her atmospheric and descriptive writing style. The storyteller remains unnamed from start to finish, but that's just another reason for the beauty of this novel. All we know is that she has an unusual name. For those of you who have read this book, don't you still wonder what her name was?

I do think it's a shame if you haven't read Rebecca yet but at least you have this to look forward to. Read this's a truly wonderful experience.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The House on the Strand

I haven't posted for over a week because my computer conked out twice. It's now back at home and I hope I won't have any more problems. I've actually missed blogging more than I thought. Oh and thanks to all of you who gave me some book club suggestions. I've taken note of them and I'll definitely check all of them out.

I've been enjoying reading Daphne du Maurier for the last two weeks as I'm reading two of her novels consecutively, The House on the Strand and My Cousin Rachel. Reading The House on the Strand reminded me why I love her writing so much. She's a wonderfully atmospheric author who can easily transport her reader to any time and place and the best example of this is probably her masterpiece, Rebecca, one of my favourite novels. Many of her books are set in Cornwall which for years has been on my list of places to visit one day. Maybe it's because of Daphne's descriptions of its beautiful, romantic and sometimes moody scenery. 

The House on the Strand is another one of du Maurier's novels that's set in her beloved Cornwall. It's a time travel story about Dick Young, who's staying at the home of his scientist friend, Magnus. In fact, the house mentioned in the title is Kilmarth which was Daphne's home during the last decades of her life. It served as the inspiration for this novel because it was the home of Roger Kylman, a medieval steward in 1327. At the opening of the book, Dick has just tried an experimental drug invented by Magnus which allows its user to mentally travel back to fourteenth century Cornwall. 

The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. (page 1)

However, there's one catch in this particular time travel story - Dick is only a witness and is unable to be seen, heard or touched by the people he observes which include a steward called Roger and a captivating lady known as Isolda Carminowe. As Dick quickly becomes fascinated by their lives, he starts to withdraw from the modern world and his family and retreats more and more into the past. His time travel visits soon become an addiction that begin to affect not only his sanity but his physical condition. 

This is a strange story but completely engrossing. I could understand Dick's fascination with the people he observed in his travels and the pull it had on his life and thus his addiction to the drug. The physical effects he experienced were believable - the loss of the sense of touch, enhanced sight, nausea and vertigo. Of course, the fact that both Magnus and Dick hallucinate about the same people and time period was pure fantasy but somehow du Maurier makes it all work and as a reader, it was easy to suspend disbelief and glide along with the story. I was sorry this had to end and so I've followed it up by rereading a Daphne du Maurier novel I remember I enjoyed very much, My Cousin Rachel.  I've completely forgotten the plot and I'm loving it so far.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Recent Acquisitions and Other Bookish News

I got an order delivered from Amazon recently. These are my latest acquisitions:

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier - I've just started reading this and I'm loving it. I'm a big, big fan of Daphne.
The Places in Between by Rory Stewart - I've been wanting to read this ever since I read an article about this amazing young man. This book chronicles his travels on foot across Afghanistan. It sounds incredible. 
The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham - After recently enjoying The Chrysalids, I could not resist ordering another Wyndham novel.
Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons - I've been reading about this book for ages and it sounds like a light and delightful read in the tradition of Jane Austen.
Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Francoise Sagan - I read Bonjour Tristesse years ago and enjoyed it. Time for a reread and a chance to try out another novella by this famous French writer.

Have any of you read the above? I'd love to hear what you thought of them.

In other bookish news, Claire at Paperback Reader and Verity at   The B Files  are hosting the Persephone Reading Week from May 3 to 9. I'm not sure which ones I'll be reading as I still have a few unread Persephones on my shelves. Plus, I've read a few that I have still to review so I might be delving into that pile too. Recently one of you asked what Persephone Books were, so just in case you still don't know, Persephone Books are reprints of rediscovered twentieth century novels mostly by women writers. I've read quite a number of them and have yet to be disappointed. They've all been wonderful so far. You can learn more about Persephone Books at their website here.

Oh, and I also bought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon for my first book club read. I recently co-founded a book club together with a friend. We have eight members right now and I think that's a good number. I'm really excited to have our first meeting. I'd love to hear from all of you regarding book club suggestions. If you are in a club, which books generated the most discussion? Any other advice on how to run a successful and fun book club?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Year of the Flood

If you regularly read my blog then you know how much I loved Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (see my review). In fact, I listed it as one of my ten best of 2009. I was eager to read the second part of this Maddaddam trilogy, The Year of the Flood. I was expecting to love this book but surprise, surprise,...I didn't. 

The book can very well stand on its own as it's not a sequel. It takes place at the same time as Oryx and Crake and actually runs parallel to the latter but this time focusing on a different cast of characters. Jimmy, Oryx and Crake are very minor players in this one and we soon realise that the stars of The Year of the Flood also had bit parts in Oryx and Crake. Although I completely forgot who they were. Both books are about a futuristic world where a global man-made virus leads to millions of deaths thus leaving very few people left in a devastated world.

The Year of the Flood tells the story of this global disaster in flashback form from the points of view of Toby and Ren, both members of the ecological and vegetarian cult, the Gardeners. In fact most of the book is set in the Gardeners world, where we learn about their customs and beliefs, their saint days, their hymns. I didn't find Toby and Ren to be particularly interesting characters and I found some of the habits of the Gardeners to be quite tiresome. Atwood also places several hymns in the book and while at first it was interesting it became tedious after a while. It also seemed a bit unbelievable that most of the people left on the planet knew each other at some point in their lives before the catastrophe. Everyone seems to be an ex-lover, ex-friend or ex-Gardener. This was too much of a coincidence even for a novel.

I'm so disappointed that I didn't like this book as much as the first though of course I will definitely look out for part three of the trilogy. I hope that it will all somehow tie together in the end or will it just be from the point of view of another cast of characters? I wonder. Don't get me wrong...Atwood is still a brilliant and amazing writer and her prose is completely engaging. This just isn't one of her best.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

High Wages

(The cover of the original hardcover edition from 1930)

Although High Wages is the latest Dorothy Whipple novel to be published by Persephone books, it's actually one of her earlier novels. It was originally published in 1930. High Wages has all the characteristic Whipple charm that her more famous books have, however, I don't think it's one of her best and I'd only recommend this to those who are already fans of her work.

 (endpaper of the Persephone edition of High Wages)

High Wages is about Jane, an ambitious young girl who works in a draper's shop just before the first world war. After a few years, she sets up her own dress shop with help from a wealthy friend. Although unlucky in love, Jane proves to have a keen business sense that makes her little boutique an instant success.

The preface of the novel was written by Jane Brockett and she mentions that High Wages has tremendous historical value because it covers the consumer culture and retail therapy of that particular era. It is indeed interesting to see how women viewed fashion in a small northern town in England just before the Great War. This novel is also unique compared to other ones from this period because it's about a woman who embarks on her own career and does it so remarkably well without the help of any man. Though not a great novel, it's still very engaging. Whipple portrays village life wonderfully and the cast of characters as in all her novels are very well-drawn and quite interesting. High Wages, though not the best Whipple, is still a charming, old-fashioned and delightful novel.

Waiting on Wednesday - Mockingjay

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

I'm waiting for:  Mockingjay (The Final Book of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins
Release Date:  August 24, 2010

From Amazon:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Woman in White - Read the Book/See the Movie

If you read my last post then you know how much I love the book, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I decided to watch the Masterpiece Theatre mini-series of the novel as part of the  Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge hosted by C.B. James. I was very disappointed. Though the film, which was made in 1998, has a good cast that includes Tara Fitzgerald, Simon Callow and Justine Waddell, I still thought it was a poor adaptation. The plot was greatly reduced and simplified. Even the name of the character of Marian Halcolmbe was changed to Marian Fairlie. This was probably done to simplify Marian's origins but then viewers are confused when both are referred to as Ms.Fairlie. Other liberties were taken by the director and scriptwriter with the plot and characters that completely changed the spirit of Wilkie Collins' brilliant novel. Please avoid this movie at all costs.

I've read that the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical version of The Woman in White is fantastic though I have yet to see it. There's also a BBC 1982 adaptation of The Woman in White that's apparently excellent and more true to the novel but it's not available in a dvd version. Has anyone seen either of these? I'd love to hear what you thought of them.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Book Revisited: The Woman in White

A Book Revisited is a weekend series hosted here. If you'd like to join the meme, just grab the image above and post about a book you've read in the past that (as far as you know) has had zero or little mention in the book blogosphere. It must be a book you enjoyed and recommend. I understand that it's sometimes not possible to remember everything about a book you've read years ago so just write a brief summary or review and leave a link in the comment section below.

I'm aware that The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins has been mentioned before in many book blogs but I'd just like to add my own two cents because I love this book and it would be wonderful if more people would read it. Its been on my list of favourites ever since I first read it in 2001. I clearly remember when that was because it was the year I got married and I remember staying up all night reading it. We had just moved to Bangkok and we were living at a serviced apartment. My husband was annoyed to wake up at 4am and find my reading light still on. Now I've read a lot of wonderful books in my life but this book is the only one I remember being literally unputdownable. The funny thing is Mr.B read it soon after and yes, you guessed it...the same thing happened! He stayed up all night reading it too. I guess it just has that effect on people and the mystery is so riveting you just can't help turning more pages.

It's amazing that this book has stood the test of time since it was first serialized in Britain from 1859 to 1860. No wonder every chapter ends in a cliffhanger.  It appeared in book form for the first time in 1860 and was an instant bestseller but harshly criticized by high brow critics for its lack of literary merit. It was considered quite 'trashy' in its day. Books of this genre earned the term of 'sensation novels' and The Woman in White is probably the first and best of its kind.

Walter Hartright, a penniless drawing teacher is employed to teach the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie, and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Hartright and Laura fall in love, but Laura is engaged to marry the unpleasant Sir Percival Glyde, a friend of her late father. Now what are the two young lovers to do? That's the basic plot line but there's also a mysterious woman in white who keeps appearing in the novel. There's also some secrets, mistaken identities, theft, amnesia, locked rooms and asylums, plus the most fascinating villain I've ever encountered in a book in the character of Count Fosco. Marian Halcombe is also a wonderful heroine. Though she's a plain spinster, she's intelligent, cunning and resourceful. These are definitely not the stereotype qualities of an old maid in the Victorian era. The Woman in White is such a classic and satisfying novel. I envy the reader who has yet to read it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

I just saw this film last night, El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes), the Argentinian film that won the best foreign language film Oscar for 2010. My husband and I were blown away! What an excellent movie and it was far, far superior than anything on the mediocre list of nominees for best picture that the Oscars managed to churn out this year.

We were quickly drawn in to this murder mystery with a love story thrown in. We just couldn't tear our eyes away. Stellar performances by a wonderful cast working with an excellent script.

The Secret in Their Eyes is a riveting crime story that starts in 1974 when a young wife is brutally raped and murdered. Twenty years later, the court investigator who worked on the case is now retired and decides to write a book about his experiences while still trying to resolve some loose ends in the mystery and in his own love life. I can't give away any more. It's best not to know too much when watching this film but please do catch it if you can. Highly recommended.

Blog Hopper Hop

It's Friday!  Time for a Book Blogger Hop!!

This is a weekly event, hosted at  Crazy-For-Books, where book bloggers and readers can connect to find new blogs to read. 

If  you find my blog this way please leave a comment along with your web address so I can return the visit.   
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