Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn
Daphne du Maurier is a good read, which is always a useful advantage for an author. Sort of midway between Mills and Boon and Tolstoy.
I couldn’t remember whether I had read Jamaica Inn before, but I took it from the library anyway. Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, they all sound the same to me and on the lines of “Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by.” They probably don’t recite that one at school any more, so for any youthful readers, Rudyard Kipling’s poem is about smuggling.
But onto the plot. Our exceedingly plucky heroine Mary, sells the family farm on the death of her mother and goes to live with her aunt at – Jamaica Inn.
However it is a strange sort of inn as no-one ever stops there. Her aunt’s husband, the landlord and the villain of the story, is a typical dark brooding giant of a man, who abuses his wife and admires Mary’s assertive character. Mary is provided with board and lodging in return for helping around the place.
You know from the word go that this is obviously a smugglers’ HQ, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that. The inn opens on the few nights when there is business to be done.
Naturally the lovely Mary attracts some attention from men. She is spoilt for choice between the strange and spooky albino vicar, and the landlord’s younger brother, who, amongst his other talents, is a horse thief.
Mary seems to spend half her time tramping the Cornish moors, and by amazing co-incidence, either encountering the vicar or the younger brother on her travels.
But that’s child’s play compared with taking on the murderous smugglers in the middle of the night on the treacherous Cornish coast. I wish I had half this woman’s guts. I can’t imagine doing what she did, and I’m not sure I know anyone who would either. As a female character, she is amazingly strong and courageous, which is A Good Thing.
The novel’s plot is pretty thin. It must be, because even I worked it out before the end and I am notoriously slow on plots. But in terms of action and writing, it’s a great read. I picked it up, and read through the 300 pages in one afternoon without putting it down.
On which basis, I would recommend it. Plot isn’t everything, what is the point of a good plot in a badly written book? Readability and style are often more important.
Note – the introduction by Sarah Dunant in the version I read was also good, but I do leave introductions until I have finished the book as they ALWAYS give too much away. I don’t know why they don’t put them at the end.
Plot – thin and obvious (as above)
Style – good
Pace – excellent
Bond. James Bond
The immortal line in the 007 films. As distinctive as the theme music.
In my quest for light reading at the local library (I’ve now read all the Chris Ryans, Graham Greenes, and various others) I suddenly chanced on the Bond novels by Ian Fleming.
For some reason I never read them in my youth although I must have ploughed happily through every single Saint (Simon Templar) novel by Leslie Charteris.
Needless to state I haven’t been able to read them in the correct chronological order which is a bit of a nuisance as each book opens by referring to the previous one.
However having said that, they are all stand-alone stories anyway, so it is a minor inconvenience rather than a major disaster. A bit like not being able to read all the Len Deighton Bernard Sampson tales in the right order.
So one of the things I did do over the brief weekend at the finca, was to polish off Goldfinger. I think the others I read before that, were Casino Royale, Diamonds are Forever, and From Russia, With Love. Now what has fascinated me, is how much better the books are than the extravagant block-buster films that were made so many years ago. Somewhat like reading a Robert Ludlum Bourne novel and wondering what on earth it had to do with the Bourne films apart from the name.
To be fair to the Bond films, they did stick to the basic plot – just changed the situation, location and added a few more characters. To put it mildly.
But back to the book(s). Overall, they are so much tighter, well written, with a good plot, no superfluous drivel – and each one throughout the series seems to get even harder and tougher. The character is perfectly painted. And while I don’t agree with the so-called womanising approach – it doesn’t read like that in the books. He meets intelligent attractive women and has sex with them, usually one or maybe two per novel. Or turn it round the other way, one or two intelligent attractive women meet an intelligent attractive man, ie James Bond and have sex with him. OK so maybe he is irresistible.
Back to Goldfinger. It was apparently the third film to be made in 1964, (the book dates from 1959), and was an amazing financial success – it had a budget of $3M, which it recouped in two weeks, grossing a total of $125M at the box office. Incredible. It was also the first gadgety film, which was obviously popular at the time, but to me lead to endless boring stunts.
The book, on the other hand, sticks to guns and knives – with the exception of Oddjob’s amazing hat. There is some dialogue – but it is curt and to the point. There is a lot of descriptive narration, but the story keeps moving and the pace is fast. Even to me, a non-golf player, the chapters where Bond and Goldfinger were playing for ten thousand dollars (not the gold bar of the film) were well contrived and keep the reader in suspense waiting for the denouement.
My partner read Goldfinger (and all the other Bond books) some 30 years ago. ‘I love the bit about being squeezed through the aeroplane window like a tube of toothpaste,’ he said casually when we were discussing the book. How on earth can someone remember a description from a book they read so long ago? But perhaps they can if the imagery created by the prose was good enough.
One of the strengths of the last two films (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), has been to get away from the gadgets, and the terribly boring scenes (to me) where people seem to chase around on futuristic machines underground rushing to kill each other before the whole place blows up.
The opening of Casino Royale was wonderful – even moreso if you remember the old Callan series. I can never watch those opening moments without thinking of Callan and Edward Woodward. Demolishing half of Venice towards the end was the film’s weakest point, but the final ending was good, very good, as Bond (Daniel Craig) shoots Mr White, and utters the immortal words when White asks who he is.
I use Casino Royale as an example because I have seen it more recently, but however good the film is, it seems there is always a boring section. But in the books – there isn’t a boring moment, and I struggle to put them down to do something mundane like cooking or shopping or cleaning. Much better to allocate a few hours and read straight through.
And for those of you who wanted to listen to Dame Shirley singing – you can look it up on Youtube as well as I can. Instead here is the rather nice front cover of the hardback from the library. The golden eyes are set in a skull.
Gotta go, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service calls. As do some more tedious duties. Which will win???
Isabel Allende, Portrait in Sepia
I like Latin American authors. I tend to read them in translation, but they are still good. They have a lovely narrative style and an other worldly atmosphere.
Anyway, Portrait in Sepia was eminently readable. I had a quick look on wiki and I think to compare Allende with Danielle Steele is grossly unfair. But nor is she Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I can’t comment on any of her earlier books. However based on this one book, I wouldn’t describe her as the Latin American dream author for feminists.
In no particular order:
1 ) The apparent subject of the book – Aurora – is totally weak, and relatively speaking, plays quite a small role
2 ) An early appearance of a strong character espousing women’s suffrage – Nivea (no not the cream) – ends up endlessly jumping around on her husband, pregnant belly allowing, and dropping kids right left and centre. Instead of the hoped for (on my part) intelligent thinking woman, we get someone who reads soft porn, makes her main role delighting her husband, and palms off the resulting kids to the endless nannies
3 ) It is basically a book about rich people (that follows from 2)
4 ) Even the (mostly) English woman who lives with the Chinese hero, manages to go back and live in the UK in some Bohemian part of London courtesy of rich aunt and happily travels the world following the death of her husband
5 ) Then there is the tragic role of beautiful young woman who is so naive that she models, poses nude, gets shagged, pregnant, and dies in childbirth to rich young man
6 ) The inevitable prostitute appears with a heart of well, silver if not gold. After all, prostitution is always great for women, right?
7 ) The dream/trauma Aurora has, is obvious from sentence one. I am possibly the slowest in the world at getting this sort of thing but even I had it pegged
8 ) The interesting female tutor, rather like Nivea, intellectual and thinking, – is sidelined
9 ) The syphilitic father who abandoned his daughter – and her mother – finally acknowledges her. Dear me!! That makes it all ok of course.
10 ) Oh, yes, almost forgot. Young bloke who leaves Chile with his true love waiting for him, naturally falls in love with someone else but that doesn’t matter ‘cos she forgives him and wants to marry him anyway, qv above her jumping around on top of him.
A good and enjoyable read but not great by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly did nothing for women as far as I could read – wherever did Ms Allende win that reputation for being a writer of any remotely feminist aspirations?
Clive Cussler, Black Wind
If you like adventure packed action boy heroics – then these will do it. However this is not one of the best I have read. Apart from anything else, I was totally confused to read about endless Dirk Pitts all looking tall and amazingly attractive/rugged/blah boring blah. Somewhere along the line it seemed a son had transpired and the old man took a back seat while the young one did all the gung-ho, shag the women, usual sort of stuff.
Totally implausible plot. Even more so than normal. And like sawing away metal rings bolted into concrete with a carefully secreted nail file?? Even James Bond wouldn’t have resorted to that crap.
The plot? Well, Koreans, lots of water, getting trapped and escaping plus some chemical gas things. I think that was it anyway. It’s irrelevant really.
Len Deighton, MAMista
Plot – guerillas in Latin America trying to thwart fascist regime. Key characters – rich Latin American communist woman who manages to flit between the status quo and the rebels, young American idealist who wants to join the real Marxist fight, tired, cynical and yet more idealistic than all of them medic, Australian, but anglicised. Sort of. And the CIA guy and the communist leader.
Why was it good? Or rather, why was it brilliant? Believable plot to start with. No nail files involved in this one. Some sad and gruelling deaths. Reality. Taut and excellent writing.
Daphne du Maurier, The Birds & other stories
The Birds is the title story of this book and took up a mere 40 pages. Fancy making a film out of 40 pages. Good one Alfred. It was also set (unsurprisingly I suppose) in England. Apart from the birds – it was totally different to the film.
But some of the rest of the stories were pretty decent too. Slightly incredible but a good read. Monte Verita was well written – but unless you believe in the supernatural the ending was a disappointment. However the descriptions of the mountains and the search for truth gave it a lift.
The Apple Tree and The Old Man? OK, no more no less. I had to look up The Old Man to even remember what it was about, and The Apple Tree had a pretty obvious ending, dead wife haunts happy widower and causes his death, more or less.
The Little Photographer was an easy and entertaining read. Blackmail. For sex. Naughty scarlet woman finally decides to take a lover. She becomes so bad that naturally she pushes the lover over the cliff and is then held to ransom by the sister of the former lover.
I do dislike these tales of bad women always get their just desserts.
So apart from Monte Verita, the other one I really liked was Kiss Me Again, Stranger. The ending wasn’t obvious, the writing was very tight and the style was different. I’m not saying any more about that one.
Worth a read as a book of short stories. If you read fast like me, it will be finished in less than a day.