Page turners

‘Jamaica Inn’ – Daphne du Maurier

Few authors have mastered the gothic genre as convincingly as Daphne du Maurier, and this becomes apparent while reading, ‘Jamaica Inn’. First published in 1936, this remains one of du Maurier’s most famous works, with memorable characters, tragedy and romance, all enacted within an atmosphere of dread and gloom.

What better setting than the stark moors of Cornwall? du Maurier’s stage is perfectly positioned to capture the horrific element that forms the basis of the story. Mary Yellan, newly orphaned, is on her way to Jamaica Inn where she plans to live with her only living relation, Aunt Patience. Her husband is landlord of the Inn. Perhaps she hoped to assuage her grief at losing her parents. Instead, she is in for a shock. No one lives for miles around that god-forsaken landscape, there is usually wild and stormy weather, and mysterious goings-on at night. Her aunt, Mary discovers to her utter chagrin, is like a whipped puppy – her uncle Joss Merlyn holds sway over the household. He is a dark figure, drawn by du Maurier with deft strokes so one is left appalled by his heavy drinking and swearing. Yet, there is something about him that Mary cannot ignore. du Maurier makes only a faint suggestion of unwholesomeness. The reader suspects, but cannot be sure.

Strange events unfold at night, and Mary is sure there is some illegal activity afoot. She finds that drink makes her uncle completely insensible. He is a violent man, and threatens her many times, stopping just short of actual physical abuse. He keeps company with unsavoury types. Into this set up, his brother, Jem, comes in. A horse thief, a charmer, and wholly unafraid of his violent brother. Mary knows his type means trouble, but feels an attraction she cannot ignore. He is too much like his brother Joss.

A new character is introduced, the Vicar, who is an albino. He plays an important part in the unfolding of events. Mary then discovers that her uncle was involved with a gang of wreckers. After many dramatic sequences, and the deaths of Joss Merlyn and Aunt Patience, Mary is left bereft. Will she find happiness?

The book was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. But I found the reading of the book more entertaining, with its drama, tension and mystery.