The Loving Spirit: Daphne du Maurier Challenge

Reading the first few pages of the The Loving Spirit, my initial reaction was that Janet, the protagonist, was a cross between a sweet L. M. Montgomery heroine, and a religious minded Jane Eyre. I was so wrong. The book has nothing in common with Jane Eyre’s piety or the sweet and content characters of L. M. Montgomery. Here we have a heroine, who is not openly ambitious, but has dreams widely different from her chosen sphere in life. She is not fiercely passionate, and yet, you get the feeling that she is living a suppressed life and the dam must blow.

But, when it does, it doesn’t appeal to me. Janet dreams to live the life of a man, and when her society doesn’t allow her this, she dutifully marries and bears her husband children. I would have liked it much more if she had broken free of restraints and found a way to satisfy her desires. Instead she tries to live vicariously through her son. This dream is doomed from the beginning and in every generation the vicious cycle repeats itself. The loving spirit is the unique connection between parent and child that is present in the Coombe family. Janet is where this spirit starts…….all the way down to Jennifer.

I have to say I didn’t really enjoy this book. And not because it continued through three generations. I just didn’t like the relationship between Janet and her son Joseph. It reminded me vaguely of The Thorn Birds and how Meggie hated her mother’s favoritism towards her brother Frank. Although the books are widely different, I disliked the similar preference and total exclusion of everyone else in her life. I actually sympathized, though did not condone Philip’s jealousy of his mother’s love for Joseph.

This was Daphne du Maurier’s first book and at times this is apparent: her writing lacks the polish of her later works and she is not able to carry the story so well through the generations as she does in her later work Hungry Hill. Cause and effect is not so clear because she didn’t take the time to acquaint us with the characters’ personalities. I didn’t develop any attachment to them and had to force my way through most of it. In between, I lost sight of certain characters it would have been pleasant to read more about. I wouldn’t recommend this to a Daphne du Maurier fan.

Hungry Hill: Daphne du Maurier Challenge

I had avoided reading Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier for a long time. Books covering many generations don’t appeal to me. I usually like a story centered around one main character. I picked up Hungry Hill at last for the Daphne du Maurier challenge hosted by Chrisbookarama, and was instantly absorbed. The writing is, unlike Maurier’s other novels, not in the first person-narrative form, but the more common third person.

Perhaps, what interested me was the fact, that although the novel covered five generations of an Irish family, each generation was linked to the Copper Mine built on Hungry Hill. Their lives are surrounded by misfortune even though their monetary strength can’t be challenged. Everyone in the Brodrick family is left unsatisfied in some way. They are all pursued by demons that won’t let them lead the life they try to build.

Who hasn’t felt alienated from the rest like poor young Johnnie? The feeling of being ‘different’ or ‘strange’ is one that we all at some point or another feel; if we don’t, we’re among the lucky ones. Then we have Hal who wants to be respected and loved by his father. He has inherited a feeling of impotence and inadequacy from his uncle Johnnie, who inherited it from his father John. Is their bad blood in the family or is the land trying to expel them? The curse of Hungry Hill devastates the Brodrick family, pursuing them relentlessly.

In the end, Hungry Hill is the land of the people. The Brodricks and the Donovans have fought over it for generations. Each generation faces its own struggle against the Hill and the Donovans. The Brodricks are interlopers on the land, and whereas they have money, they can never possess the spirit of the land.

The Flight of the Falcon: Daphne du Maurier Challenge

Finally! I’ve finished the first book for the challenge. Written in 1965, The Flight of the Falcon is one of Daphne du Maurier’s later books. The novel, like some of her other works, has the same type of narrator: under-confident, unsure, unsuccessful and dependent. By dependent I mean, that the characters are usually (not always) overshadowed by some strong figure in their life. Beoto Donati is all that his predecessors were, except that he is not a young school-boy learning through experience how to be a maturer man. Experience has not given him the necessary push. In I’ll Never Be Young Again and My Cousin Rachel we meet the male voice at a much younger age. These protagonists are untried as of yet and as the novel progresses they are forced to learn certain harsh facts. In The Flight of the Falcon we enter Beoto’s life at the age of 32. His life is at a standstill because of what he believes to be the loss of his older brother Aldo; a brother he feared yet idolized; without whom he has no separate existence.

Returning to Ruffano, his birth place, to investigate whether his old nurse was the murder victim in front of a church, he is never more shocked in his life when he runs into skeletons from his past. The reader is not so easily shocked. Most of the secrets in the novel are easy to guess. Like the mystery surrounding the birth of Aldo and the murder of Marta. I was not mid-way through the book before I had figured these two out. But this did not in any way deter me from reading the whole book. Daphne du Maurier, as always, gives a certain magnetic energy to her narrator’s voice. His/her method of narrating the events that happen never fail to grasp your interest.Yet, I must say that for the male narrators at least, I find them a bit too weak and dependent. She so aptly brings their sense of helplessness and ineptness to the surface. The style of writing is enough to keep one reading, but the revelations of character are sometimes too insightful for us to be comfortable.

The summary at the back of the penguin edition, prepares us for a repetition of past exploits and the death of the Falcon. The Falcon, Duke Claudio, died a catastrophic death and the people of Ruffano would rather forget the history of debauchery linking them to him. But history is to repeat itself. To re-enact the whole final scene of the Falcon’s life, someone sets out to create a real life play; a play that will be performed in the streets. Beoto, fearful of the outcome and the only one in knowledge of all the facts, is unable to stop it. I read on, sure of what is going to happen, who is going to be the Falcon in the play, yet I couldn’t have guessed the outcome; but I will leave you to find out what happens in the story…………what is the purpose in re-enacting this particular episode? The violence that was in the Duke’s day is repeated through the now famous University at Ruffano, by the mysterious workings of a secret society. The secrets and mysteries unfold slowly, at exactly the right moment. The author’s skill is apparent in the tensions she builds and then the final release.

As always, the atmosphere in the novel is important. Beoto, who is known through most of the novel as Armino Fabbio, vividly remembers the place of his birth and the ducal palace where his father was the Superintendent. The description of his home town, when driving up the hill covered with snow is magnificent. Their is a gothic element in his memories of the religious paintings at the ducal palace and the mental torture he suffered at the hands of his brother, Aldo. Influenced by authors such as Charlotte Bronte and Wilkie Collins, Daphne gives this gothic and mysterious element to all her plots. The atmosphere is always a bit eerie and I personally always feel the narrator is a little detached. This may be because of the style of narration. The reader always feels separate from the action as if watching from a distance, because the narrator is between us and the action. We are seeing it through his or her eyes, not directly. This gives a peculiar quality to Daphne’s novels.

Despite the great story, this was not one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels. I would have to say that my favorites are Rebecca and The King’s General. Maybe I’m a sucker for romance – of which there was none in this particular novel!

The Clan of the Cave Bear

Jean Auel’s book The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first from her Earth’s Children series. Set in prehistoric times, my first impression was that the book would be boring. I was never more wrong. From the first page, the book had grasped my entire attention and I was oblivious to all else until the last page. 

The Clan of the Cave Bear is about the evolution of a new race of humans. Ayla, the protagonist, after a catastrophic earthquake, loses her family and is ‘adopted’ into the ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’. The clan belongs to another, older race of humans, and refers to Ayla and her people as the ‘others’. They are a race verging on extinction with capabilities Ayla does not possess. The novel focuses on Ayla’s adaptation in her new environment (she possesses no memory of her own people) and with people she has nothing in common with, the difficulties in being accepted by her adoptive family, and her urge for survival. She represents the new, more resilient race of humans that were in the end the ones that were to survive. The differences between the two races is dealt with in detail. Ayla, representing the ‘others’ is more intelligent and picks up the ways of the clan quickly; she does not need the ‘memories’ that a clan child is born with. Being an outsider, her fast learning is an asset that helps her to survive in a harsh environment.

Jean Auel continues Ayla’s story in sequels of The Clan of the Cave Bear with the latest novel being The Land of Painted Caves.