Dona St. Columb, a woman bored with her life in London, is determined to flee from the city the day after her participation in a practical joke along with Rockingham, her husband’s best friend, makes her ashamed of the woman she has become. She is driven to distraction by her husband Harry and his incessent yawning and drinking habit, and decides to leave for her husband’s family estate in Cornwell with only her two children and their nanny. For all of his faults, Harry is besotted with his wife and agrees to let her go to Navron alone. The countryside proves very relaxing to Lady St. Columb, but little did she know that she would find the adventure she had always longed for in the notorious pirate who has been looting the area in her husband’s absence. While she longs to learn all that her Frenchman wants to teach her about life, love, and adventure, Dona has to weigh the rewards against the loss of her family, her already questionable reputation, and her life itself if she were to be caught.
It has been a long time since I’ve read Rebecca, the novel for which Daphne du Maurier is most well known. Rebecca is one of those rare jems where I love the novel and the film equally. In fact, I was introduced to du Maurier through the movie in the first place. I have always wanted to re-read the novel and explore her other titles, so I quickly requested a copy of Frenchman’s Creek from Sourcebooks as soon as I found out that they were available for review. Dona is such a different character from the second Mrs. De Winter and I absolutely loved her. She was a woman who loved her children but wanted more from life than motherhood during the reign of Charles II, when there weren’t really many acceptable outlets. Although her feelings for Harry were cold and judgemental, his lax nature was a saving grace of sorts. It’s far better to do as you please and feel shame for the things you’ve done than suffer from the strangulation of a strict and domineering husband. Just like Harry, I loved her despite or perhaps because of her faults.
The first chapter got off to a slow start for me, but that was quickly forgotten when Lady St. Columb reprimanded her driver for letting the horses rest on the way to Navron. It was when Dona met William, the man in charge of caring for Navron, that du Maurier really worked her magic. Their dialog and interactions are so human and so full of sacrastic wit, double meanings, and complete understanding. It was a treat to read each and every time that spoke to one another. Much the same could be said of her relationship with Frenchman. The two spoke the same language of escape and dreams. It was hard for me to find fault in Dona when in such a short period of time William and the Frenchman knew her better than her husband and their friends in London. Harry had no clue how to love his wife because he couldn’t understand her and Rockingham was simply acting upon his base nature. He never cared for Dona the way that William or the Frenchman did.
In everyone’s life there comes a time when daydreaming of running away from reality makes the idea so very appealing. Frenchman’s Creek is the perfect novel to read to fulfill those fantasies. Although I’ve never been one for pirates (not even when portrayed by Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom), I could not help being drawn in to the lure of sailing away from the world with a dashing pirate. This novel isn’t about pure escapism, though. It is quick to acknowledge the costs of acting impulsively and experiencing the greatest high you had ever imagined. At some point, you must come down from it. It isn’t just the appeal taking up with pirates that makes this novel special. du Maurier’s dialog provides just as much spark as the Frenchman while her prose creates both the calm tranquility and the absolute danger that Dona encounters in Cornwall. Be careful when you set out to read this novel. Daphne du Maurier will capture your imagination with more stealth, speed, and skill than any of her pirates ever could.
Today is what would have been Daphne du Maurier’s 102nd birthday! In honor of the author’s special day, Sourcebooks is providing a copy of Frenchman’s Creek and My Cousin Kate for me to give away! If you live in the United States or Canada, enter to win both novels by leaving a comment here about your favorite escape. You can earn an extra entry by mentioning this giveaway via email, a blog post, or Twitter (just be sure to let me know so that you will get credit). The contest is open until Tuesday, May 19 at 11:59PM EST. I’ll use List Randomizer to pick the lucky winner. Good luck.
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