Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Frenchman's Creek

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
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's review
Jul 29, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009, favourite, historical-fiction, pirates
Read in July, 2009

Beautiful, headstrong Lady Dona St Columb is weary of her life, disillusioned of her social set, her husband Harry and his friend Lord Rockingham, disgusted with herself and the pranks she's done out of boredom and an urge for adventure. On a whim she packs up her two small children and their nurse and takes them with her to their Cornwall estate of Navron, which she hasn't visited since she was a bride.

Dona settles quickly into the leisurely pace and wilderness of Navron, which has been maintained by a single servant, William. Her neighbour, Lord Godolphin, tells her about a French pirate who has been robbing the Cornish coast and "distressing" their women, and pleads with her to ask Harry to come and help capture him. The last thing Dona wants is her none-too-bright husband destroying her peace, especially when she discovers the pirate himself is using a deep pool at the end of a tidal creek on her property to secrete his ship, le Mouette - the seagull - before raids.

The Frenchman, Jean-Benoit Aubéry, is philosophical and a little bit wild himself. Dona finds in him a soul mate, a friend and a lover, and on a dare joins his crew on a hazardous bit of pirating. All dreams must end, though, and this one comes to a decided halt with the arrival of Harry and Lord Rockingham and a plan to catch a French pirate.

I can't begin to describe how much I loved this book. It's only the third du Maurier book I've read (The House on the Strand; Rebecca) but I've always wanted to read them all. Each book I read becomes a new favourite, and I can't help but marvel at her talent, which floors me.

Set in Restoration England (second half of 17th century - time of buckled shoes and big wigs), Frenchman's Creek has about it an exotic atmosphere that brought to my mind colonial estates in the Caribbean - perhaps too it is the pirating that does that, though pirates were common around Europe. Du Maurier's skill as a writer was never more abundant than in the sublime descriptions not just of Navron, the creek and river and pirating, but in the changes wrought in Dona herself. As Julie Myerson says in her introduction, "Here is a tale of emotional and sexual awakening, of loss and risk and compromise." It all combines to create this wild, exotic landscape.

There is darkness and shadow to the light and carelessness, something secretive and mysterious that's incredibly well-established by the stirringly poignant first chapter in which the estate is described from the "present" as a derelict farmhouse, half fallen-down, haunted by the deeds of long-ago, echoing with the past but overgrown, a ruin, something left behind and possibly forgotten.

Written only from Dona's perspective, though not in her voice (yet her voice comes across distinctly), absolutely everything is perfect here - I could not suggest a single thing I'd change, even if I had the audacity - not to the characters, to the prose, to the pacing, not even to the ending, as sad yet hopeful as it is. I can summon my imagination to see the final ending the way my romantic soul would wish it to be, but the ending du Maurier gave it is the only ending it could possibly have had and still keep its magic.

Magic is indeed what this story has, the magic of Navron and Dona's escape from Court life, from being the talk of the town - gossiped as far as Cornwall, since even the Frenchman has heard all about her; the magic of the Frenchman himself, never physically described beyond his height (tall) and how he wears his hair (no wig), yet powerfully described by his expressions, his stillness, his care of his crew and of Dona, his hobby of sketching birds, his character - all the things that are so important to Dona about this truly heroic man. This book lived and breathed in my hands like a slice of history, a story that is a ghost, a seductive glimpse into the heart of a woman who thought herself nearly heartless.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Tracey how are you enjoying this book? have you seen the movie with Joan Fontaine.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) I have absolutely fallen in love with this book, Tracey!

I haven't seen the movie version, is it good?

Tracey The movie is great, you should see it. Yes, I love this book. I am reading Rebecca now, and not much in the way of high adventure, or romance. Darn.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) No Rebecca is quite different, but I did enjoy it too. I think it's often likened to Jane Eyre - though again, no romance! But wait till you get to the end and find out what really happened to Rebecca!!

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