I received a copy of the novel Daphne by Justine Picardie through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I’m grateful to the publisher, Bloomsbury, and to LibraryThing for the opportunity to read and review this book.
I own 16 books by Daphne du Maurier. I confess that I’ve only read a handful of them, but clearly I’ve been impressed enough with what I have read to acquire a big stack of them. When I say that Justine Picardie’s book, “a novel about the author of Rebecca,” has a sense of atmosphere similar to du Maurier’s novels, and that Picardie has captured the spirit of du Maurier’s style, it’s a compliment.
The first 40 pages or so went a bit slowly for me, I think for two reasons. First, I had to adjust to the idea that a real historical person, a novelist I enjoy reading, is the main character of another writer’s novel. Second, there are three distinct perspectives in the book, and I had to read a couple chapters from each one to truly settle into the novel. But by page 50, I was absorbed in the characters, their thoughts and actions, their separate but overlapping stories.
One of the three perspectives is that of Daphne du Maurier, and another that of an archivist / Bronte scholar named John Symington. The chapters which focus on du Maurier and Symington are written in the third person, and they cover the period of 1957 to 1960. There’s also a modern-day character whose chapters are written in the first person: a young woman struggling with her Ph.D. thesis, and recently married to a much older man. She is researching the relationship between du Maurier and Symington (they corresponded in the late 1950s; no, it’s not a romance), and their mutual interest in Branwell Bronte. (Unlike du Maurier in Rebecca, Picardie DOES give her young female narrator a first name, but I only saw it once, late in the book.) There’s a literary mystery woven through the novel, and interesting character studies as well.
Picardie states in the Acknowledgements that her novel is based on a true story. To get inside du Maurier and Symington’s heads, and create a rich tapestry of the life circumstances they were in during the time of their correspondence, Picardie outlines in the Acknowledgements the research she did in order to write this novel. She interviewed du Maurier’s children, other relatives and friends, and Symington’s grandson. She includes the books she consulted, the scholars who offered insight, and librarians and archivists who assisted her research with primary sources. The book is a page-turner with brains, for readers who really LIKE writers, and those who appreciate veracity in historical fiction.
Once I “got into” the book, it was hard to put it down, and I loved it. I hope it brings Picardie success and many new readers. I’d be doubly glad if it wins du Maurier some new readers, especially those willing to explore beyond Rebecca.
(Also posted on LT, of course.)