Dear Readers,

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Jamaica Inn, at long last

You're a queer girl, Mary Yellan.

Jamaica Inn is, in these parts at least, often the second-most visible DuMaurier novel, partially because of the mass market paperback seen above and the Hitchcock film.

The story of young, spunky, head-on-her shoulders Mary Yellan who get sent to live in the titular inn with her frightened aunt and demonic uncle shares some Rebecca's obsessions: tall dark men with horrible secrets, the balance of power in marriage, the brutal and evocative Cornwall coast, the role of women in a man's world. But unlike Rebecca, which transcends genre to be something more than the sum of its parts, this book is exactly what it's advertised to be: a romantic thriller that's fun to read and leaves you with striking images, but not a profound, earth-shattering story.

When the recently-bereft young Mary arrives at Jamaica Inn, shunned by all the surrounding countryside, she finds the place deserted, firghtened by the specter of drunk, angry, uncle who has totally cowed her once-young and merry aunt Patience. After a lot of snooping, eavesdropping, and picking up on rumors, she realizes that the inn is a front for some very evil activities that only begun at smuggling. Meanwhile, Mary befriends an albino priest and flirts with Jem, the sheep-stealing younger brother of her uncle who appears to be no less rascally, but perhaps more upright at the core, than his cursed sibling.

As the sharp and brave Mary gets more and more entwined in her uncles' schemes, she risks losing her heart--and maybe even her life. DuMaurier writes with evocative, gripping prose and serves up a few big plot twists that I will avoid spoiling. However I will say that I TOTALLY called them early on, and you probably will too--but that didn't make it any less fun to read. And the ending has a twist of ambiguity to it that hearkens back to the Jane Eyre/Rebecca paradigm and actually gave me food for thought.

This is a perfect book for a rainy day, which is all it will take you to get through it. I recommend it for an afternoon when you want to be swept back to dark, drizzly moors, echoing empty inns, and a far more dangerous time for plucky young women recently orphaned.

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