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'Jamaica Inn' is a classic gothic novel by Daphne Du Maurier written in 1936 but (presumably) set in the late 19th century. This was another pick from the library as I enjoy Du Maurier's gothic tales and since 'Jamaica Inn' is one of her most acclaimed works I picked it up in the hopes of reading a great thriller. So, did it live up to my hopes?
When Mary Yellan's mother dies, she follows her last request to leave her quaint farm and home in Helford and live with her Aunt Patience across the moors at Jamaica Inn. Unfortunately, as both her coachman and a fellow traveller warn her, the inn is a brooding place filled with deceit and wickedness. Her aunt is now a broken woman, completely under the thumb of her dominating husband, Joss Merlyn.
The inn's atmosphere stifles Mary as she tries her best to stand against her uncle while pulling her aunt together so they can both escape. However she soon becomes embroiled in her uncle's secret deeds despite Joss's threats to ignore what she hears and sees, but her chance to be freed of Jamaica Inn's wickedness is thrown into turmoil thanks to her growing feelings for Joss's younger brother, Jem Merlyn- but can he be trusted too?
Whilst I enjoyed 'Jamaica Inn', I wouldn't say it's a perfect book worthy of 5 stars just because it's a classic.
It certainly has the elements of a good thriller: suspense (especially with chapters ending on cliffhangers), the mysteries of the shady activities that are based at the eponymous inn that pique our curiosity as well as Mary's. Above all, Du Maurier vividly creates a Jamaica Inn is far from serving the purposes it is meant to, even from just people's impressions given in the first chapter. It is isolated, dilapidated and lifeless, and its dark atmosphere greatly affects its current inhabitants so that we feel frustrated for Mary in her attempts to bring some sort of normality to the place.
The characterization is very good. Mary Yellan is an excellent protagonist; the deaths of her parents and her reluctance to leave Helford if only at her mother's request make her a sympathetic character straight away. However, unlike her aunt she is down to earth, strong-willed and determined to escape Jamaica Inn's grip, hence she isn't afraid to challenge her domineering uncle and his colleagues despite the fact he could easily break her wrists! Foolhardy or not, I had to admire her determination as the novel became further more depressing after all she witnesses. Joss Merlyn himself is a big brute who dominates the household physically and psychologically, but does have some dry humour in him, at least when sober. Fortunately he isn't quite a clichéd evil 'antagonist' although he comes close- in fact he is most sinister when drunk and reveals his true occupation to Mary, plus when one of his operations backfires he does show vulnerability towards his position towards the end, if only for himself rather than his wife and niece. Plus he seems well-aware of his family's 'bad blood' and is happy to go the way of his ancestors. We don't learn as much about Aunt Patience's history but we don't need to, as it's clear she's a broken bird and different from the woman Mary knew as a child when she's on the verge of marriage. She is such an utterly pitiful character due to her submissiveness and loyalty towards her husband that I felt more for Mary's frustrations at her ineffectualness rather than Patience herself.
Two more supporting characters of importance are Joss Merlyn's brother Jem and the vicar of a nearby church named Francis Davey, both of whom prove to be the closest things Mary has to allies during her time at Jamaica Inn. Jem Merlyn is a very complex character because although he is as much a criminal as his brother, it's on a smaller scale and he's more of a 'loveable rogue'. He can be snarky and has a good sense of humour which puts on par with Mary and makes their growing relationship more realistic and complicated since she is unable to trust any man, let alone the brother of her evil uncle. Francis Davey is a strange vicar who despite himself offers Mary comfort and advice when she gets to her wit's end. Yet Du Maurier does reminds us constantly of Davey's sinister appearance, as he is an albino; and sometimes I wish she didn't do that as it slightly gives hints towards a plot twist at the end of the story.
From beginning to end 'Jamaica Inn' is well-paced and perfectly atmospheric in its writing. However, Du Maurier does also struggle with unnatural dialogue in places. Characters have habits of stating either their or another character's emotions/state of mind aloud, which I found off putting because such emotions are inferred from the narrative anyway. Maybe it's just me, but people don't usually describe their own feelings in such a way to another person, especially as the author has already stated what a character is feeling or thinking outside dialogue. That's probably the biggest flaw I found with this novel though, and perhaps it could be a result of how people spoke back in these times (which just shows how familiar I am with books set in the 19th century, I suppose!).
'Jamaica Inn' is an exciting story that I quite enjoyed reading with a brilliant gothic setting and many sinister undertones. It may suffer from some poorly written dialogue, but otherwise it is a good read and a well deserved classic.
I got my copy from the library, but you can find the copy I read (published by Virago Modern Classics) for as little as 1p used on Amazon Marketplace, or £5.84 new from the website.
(Review also on Ciao under the username Anti_W)
Jamaica Inn is a novel by Daphne du Maurier about a young lady called Mary Yellan whose mother dies and she has to move from the lovely Helford valley to Jamaica Inn on the wild and windy Bodmin Moor to live with her aunt Patience and Uncle Joss.
Joss is the leader of a gang of evil shipwreckers who set traps for ships in the middle of the night, then they ruthlessly kill all on board and steal their cargo to make money on it. Mary finds out about her uncles' horrid way of earning money and confides in the Vicar of Altarnun, an albino gentleman who isn't what he seems at first.
The book is extremely well written, I have to say it is my favourite du Maurier novel, having read it about 4 times now. I have also visited Jamaica Inn a few times and always wonder if Cornwall really was like that all those years ago!
Having visited the real Jamaica Inn on holiday in Cornwall and being a fan of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, I bought this book. I have to say that it really brought to life the seedy past that existed amongst smugglers on the Cornwall coast. A work of fiction based on fact.
The storyline is very good, about a young girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother dies. Like all youngsters, she is curious and aims to find out what happens on the dark blustery nights when she hears strange noises outside the inn.
Her curiosity leads her into various problems and in parts the storyline becomes quite scary (well, I thought so anyway!) and you almost feel as if you are there with her,experiencing the suspense of the situations.
I think anyone who has not read Du Maurier could start with this one, but perhaps it would have more impact if you have actually visited Jamaica Inn and the surrounding moors, then your imagination really takes over.
I have not given too much away about the storyline as I think you should read this for yourself.
'Jamaica Inn', Daphne du Maurier's fourth novel, was first published in 1936. Set in Cornwall in the early 19th century, its focal point is an infamous hostelry on the road between Bodmin and Launceston. It is about to become the home of Mary Yellan, a woman of 23 who has lost her mother after a long debilitating illness and has to leave her birthplace, the tranquil village of Helford. Her Aunt Patience, whom she has not seen for several years, is the only living relative of whom she knows. And Patience has married Joss Merlyn, the landlord of Jamaica Inn. As she makes her way there under a cheerless November sky, it becomes apparent from the remarks of the coach driver that there is something not quite right about her destination. When she arrives and sets eyes on her listless, downtrodden aunt and her uncouth drunken sot of an uncle, she realises that she is in for a rough ride. She has barely arrived before he warns her fiercely that he is master in his own house, but as long as she does what she is told without opening her mouth, no harm will befall her. The moment she opens her mouth, he says, "I'll break you until you eat out of my hand the same as your aunt yonder." In return for being given a roof over her head, she will be expected to serve his friends in the bar. Sometimes late at night, he tells her, she will hear wheels on the road, footsteps in the yard, and voices beneath her window - but she is under strict orders to stay in bed and cover her head with the blankets. Despite her sheltered upbringing, Mary has enough commonsense to realise what her uncle is up to, or at least make a well-informed guess. His disreputable associates come to the inn and make themselves at home before going about their unlawful business. Jamaica Inn is clearly the centre of a smuggling network. When the local magistrate, Mr Bassat, comes to search the premises, it becomes clear that it is only a matter of time
before the forces of law and order will put a stop to things. Joss's younger brother Jem also makes an uninvited appearance. A horse-thief, he seems almost as disreputable himself on first acquaintance, but is not without a certain rough-hewn charm. Nor is the initially disconcerting but apparently helpful and friendly Francis Davey, the vicar of Altarnun, to whom she unburdens herself after a chance encounter. Things (and people) are seldom what they seem, and at length Mary feels impelled to do what she can to assist the law. But first she is forced to go on a wrecking party to the coast with Joss and his cronies. At which point there is a twist in the tale... 'Jamaica Inn' is part adventure story, inspired by tales such as Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', part Gothic tale and a Cornish version of the Brontës' 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Jane Eyre', with its portrayal of Bodmin Moor's howling winds and stark isolation as a backdrop for a story of drunkenness, theft, murder and madness, not to mention the smuggling and wrecking. It is a powerful tale in its descriptions of the area and portrayal of character that has never dated. I was inspired to read the book after being taken to visit Bodmin Moor and Jamaica Inn itself. No longer a den of iniquity, or even the temperance house which the author calls it in her introduction, it is now a large thriving hotel, restaurant and conference centre, with facilities which include a museum of smuggling, Daphne du Maurier memorabilia, waxwork and audio presentation based around the novel, and hardly surprisingly a book and gift shop. Even so, you don't have to go there first to be enthralled by the story. I found it a riveting read, not just for the plot but also fora its evocative descriptions of the countryside. With the exception of 'Rebecca', it remains probably the most popular of the author's books. There h
ave been frequent reissues over the years by several different publishers in hardback and paperback, and the current edition is available through Virago (ISBN 1844080390).