Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
Rating : 4/5
Being bedridden for the past week gave me a great opportunity to cleanse myself of all the ARC’s and spend some time catching up on my actual TBR list. Coincidentally, I had just upgraded my collection with a list of books that I had wanted to read for a long time. While shopping, my eyes had fallen on the Daphne du Maurier collection. I was familiar with her work thanks to Hitchcock but my familiarity only went as far as Rebecca and Birds. So, I randomly picked out a book after reading the blurb and it was the Frenchman’s Creek. My head was filled with tales of piracy with a small pinch of the paranormal and expected the final effect to be very similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean. So, I was slightly disappointed when the book turned out to be more of a historical romance interspersed with some adventure here and there.
The book revolves around Dona, Lady St. Colomb, who, bored of her shallow life in London, takes recluse in the countryside of Cornwall at Navron, her husband’s estate, with her two children and their nanny. To her chagrin she finds the house and its premises being used as a temporary base by the notorious French pirate Jean-Benoit Aubéry. Yet, on encountering the pirate, all her prejudices are set aside when she finds him polished, gentlemanly, knowledgeable and moreover, a free spirit just like her. A romance blooms and with the Frenchman she embarks upon various adventures that gives her a respite from her womanly conduct and allows her to be free. Soon, she has to choose between her mundane domestic life and her love for the Frenchman and be ready to risk a scandal!
The first chapter pushes your imagination in the direction of Rebecca with the description of a deserted mansion and its past along with dreams of disturbing nature where characters freely roam about. And here ends any resemblance it might have to Rebecca! When the story starts you are introduced to Dona, a headstrong and unconventional woman who feels stifled with her shallow life in London and the restrictions imposed on her for being a woman. Yet, she pushes the limit of what is acceptable by dining in taverns and riding in breeches just like a man. Her free spirit has been reigned in too long and requires an outlet. Her only intention of leaving her husband and moving to the country is to break free of tradition and live life on her own terms.
“And one day I set a linnet free, and it flew straight out of my hands towards the sun?… Because I feel like that. Like the linnet before it flew.” – Dona explaining to her husband Harry about how she feels.
Reading about Dona, many of us can clearly sympathize with her due to the extremely limiting life lead by women during those days. Their life seems to revolve around playing host to a few dull acquaintances and other domestic duties. No wonder the protagonist needed some freedom her life and all the petticoats one has to wear!
Soon, Dona’s life changes and takes on a dream-like quality after meeting the Frenchman. Most of the actions of the protagonist after meeting the pirate felt more like someone in desperate need of an adventure and not like that of a responsible mother of two. Yet, this feels acceptable as du Maurier never characterized Dona as a submissive and traditional women. Although at some point she herself realizes the foolhardiness of the undertaking, she is propelled by the contentment that she feels in the company of this Frenchman.
Contentment is a state of mind and body when the two work in harmony, and there is no friction. The mind is at peace, and the body also. The two are sufficient to themselves. Happiness is elusive – coming perhaps once in a life-time – approaching ecstasy.”
The other characters in the story are extremely predictable. The Frenchman is the lonely and enigmatic artist who completely understands the heroine and is a total contrast to her husband, who is a dolt. Dona’s husband Harry is portrayed as foolish and immature with no understanding of the things happening around him and with a sincere obedience to his wife and her happiness. I was unhappy with the characterization of Harry and felt it unjust as an independent woman like Dona would never choose a foolish person like Harry in the first place. This was the one place where I believe that the author could have offered up some explanation to cover up the confusion. A character who was agreeable was William, the butler of Navron. Albeit being a terrible butler, he is completely honest to his master, the Frenchman and also to Dona once she shows liking to the Frenchman. He keeps all their secrets safe and aides Dona in covering up her tracks during her adventures with the pirate.
The story contains no new elements and is just as one would expect without any surprises or plot twists. Although romance is the main theme of the story, there are no overtly emotional or romantic scenes in the book. The love story between the pirate and Dona looks more sensible than passionate. The entire writing has a languorous quality about it even at the heights of passion or anger. The reader himself will be in a state of trance while turning the pages. However, even with this lethargic approach, du Maurier has definitely created a page turner.
Overall, the book is enjoyable but do not compare it to Rebecca and do not expect any paranormal activity. This is just a regular romantic story but with exceptionally great writing and language. Anyone can read it to feel relaxed and happy.