Thursday, 30 October 2008


I've been putting this off too long in the hope that in by leaving it, I would become a grand wordsmith and write the best thoughts about this, my favourite book of year, and bask in the glory of all the comments that come my way declaring 'Well, by gosh, I am going out right this MINUTE to buy myself a copy!'

I am now quite convinced that this very probably wont be happening, and am so going to content myself with trying to convey what it is that has so captivated me. I am well aware that there are others out there who have done this better than I will do, but here are my thoughts on a book that has truly touched my heart, brain and soul. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Justine Picardie's 'Daphne'.

Books are funny things. Who knows what it is that is going to attract you and persuade you to read it? Recommendations are all well and good, but if you walk into a literary festival event just by chance then what is it that will make your mind up to buy and read that book? I went to Justine's event in April full of curiosity about Daphne du Maurier, but no intention of buying the book - having spent an awful lot at the festival already.
An hour later, however, I had a copy in my hands, having been so fired up by the conversation that had gone on, that I couldn't let the chance of reading this book pass me by another minute.
Fresh from a Masters in the art of biography, where I'd written an essay on the way fiction can sometimes be used as a way of presenting a portion of a person's life that a conventional biography might struggle with at times, I was understandably excited about this take of one strand of du Maurier's life.
My excitement was more than justified as I wove my way through the trials du Maurier suffered through 1957 and the way she tried to write herself out of the crisis her husband's breakdown had precipitated. If it were just a novel about du Maurier this would be a good book, what makes it great is the intricate threads that are woven through the tale of du Maurier's involvement with J.A. Symington, the mystery of various stolen Bronte manuscripts and how all these things reflect on one young woman, seemingly living the plot of 'Rebecca'.

With so many threads in her hand, one might think that it would be easy to let one or more slack, but each is taut wonderfully crafted. The real reason I love this book is because it draws you into the world of people that you might otherwise not have come into contact with, and whilst it gives a clear picture, there are still enough shadows around the edges to delve into at a later date - some of which are already being delved into by Justine herself, and one (the missing Honresfeld manuscript) which is a mystery she has handed on to her readers.

This is a book that really moved me when I read it. I've been to a few of Justine's talks about it, each of which has shaped the way I've looked both at it, and the woman it's centred around. And as first lines go - 'To begin. Where to begin? To begin at the beginning, wherever that might be.' - well, in my personal opinion, I feel like it's right up there with my two favourite books of all time - 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'I Capture the Castle'. And that's the highest praise I can bestow on anything I read.

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