Review: Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

cover of Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
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I don’t remember when I first heard of Daphne Du Maurier but it must have been in connection to her most popular novel, Rebecca. What I remember is watching an adaptation of Jamaica Inn on TV some years ago and really enjoying the sinister atmosphere, the female protagonist and the story in general. Ever since I have wanted to read more of her books. The final push was one of Lauren And The Books’ YouTube videos where she raves about all the Du Maurier books she read and thoroughly enjoyed.

Last week during one of my library visits as I was scanning the shelves in order to find some books I might enjoy reading I spotted the Du Maurier section and picked up two of the books, Jamaica Inn and the Frenchman’s Creek. Jamaica Inn, because of the TV mini-series I saw a few years ago and the Frenchman’s Creek because it was the title next to Jamaica Inn and because I didn’t want to pick Rebecca up just yet. Somehow I felt I should not start with that one. I felt that if I would like these ones I can go and tackle her best work assured that I will enjoy it. If you like historical fiction and romance with a bit of mystery and adventure you will definitely enjoy this novel.

So I started with the Frenchman’s Creek without knowing anything at all about it. It is a short novel of about 250 pages and I finished it in two sittings. The story is set in Cornwall during the reign of Charles II (around 1670) and tells the love story of an impetuous English lady and a French pirate.

The book is easy to read and it is beautifully written, with an almost dreamy and nostalgic character to it. The characters are romanticised, and also tend to fall into some typical categories which can become tiresome to the trained reader. Categories like, the beautiful heroine, simpleton but caring husband, and dashing pirate. If you at any point in your life read paperback historical romances you know what I’m talking about. This book, in my eyes, definitely falls into the romance category but it is much better written than many of the thousands of average romance novels out there. What this lacks, compared to the usual romance novel, thankfully, is sexual explicitness. That was refreshing.

What I mean by the characters being romanticised is, for example, the pirate’s portrayal as a sort of Robin Hood, who steals only from the ones who can afford it. It somehow makes him seem as less of a criminal and more of a hero. He robs those whose characters are then described in negative terms, as if further justification of his deeds.

‘He robs those who can afford to be robbed, my lady. He gives away much of what he takes. The poorer the people in Brittany benefit very often. No, the moral issue does not concern him.’

Our heroine, Dona, is approaching her 30th birthday, and is getting tired of life in London, full of falsities and ignorance. She wants to escape and find peace. She escapes to the countryside where her adventure will begin. She is headstrong and daring and for a woman living in the 16 hundreds quite a modern thinker. She feels she is missing out on life because she is a woman and the adventure with the pirate will be her opportunity for a freer life. She takes it all in, enjoying every moment as she knows this will not last. She has to store all the little details knowing she will revisit them in her memory many times throughout her life.

‘Here, beneath this tree, she had lain on her back in the sun and watched the butterflies, and Godolphin had called upon her for the first time, surprising her with her ringlets in disorder and the flowers behind her ears. And in the woods there had been bluebells, where there were bluebells no more, and the bracken had been young which was now waist-high and darkly green. So much loveliness, swiftly come and swiftly gone, and she knew in her heart that this was the last time of looking upon it all, and that she would never come to Navron again. Part of her would linger there for ever: a footstep running tip-toe to the creek, the touch of her hand on a tree, the imprint of her body in the long grass. And perhaps one day, in after years, someone would wonder there and listen to the silence, as she has done, and catch the whisper of the dreams that she had dreamt there, in midsummer, under the hot sun and the white sky.’

You should read this because it is beautifully written, witty and nostalgic at the same time. It is a charming read not overly dramatic, so perfect for when you’re in the mood for something light. A perfect summer read.

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