CLASSIC YA MONTH: Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

Review by Gill-Marie Stewart

I first read this book as a teenager and although my memories of the story are not at all clear, I have vivid recollections of the murderous inn keeper, smuggling, the danger of the sea and the courage of the heroine Mary Yellan. In those days I thought I could definitely be Mary Yellan, adventurous and daredevil. I did not feel that on re-reading!

This is a dark and atmospheric book, with far more description and far less dialogue than is common in books today. The heroine, Mary Yellan, is 23, so not actually a YA heroine at all. But everything else about her seems to identify her with a teenager, she is an orphan following the wishes of her dead mother, she is at the mercy of relatives with no power of her own. Despite her stated age, the book does read like YA to me.

The mood of gothic creepiness is maintained throughout the book, which is an amazing achievement. There is also a relentlessly forward-moving plot – not fast-moving, not always exciting, but ones that draws in the reader never the less. The gloomy atmosphere is not much lightened by the advent of Jem, the possible hero. He is good-looking and wild, but we are never given to believe that he is a good person. And the apparent good person in the book, the reverend Francis Davey, is odd, unnerving to look at, strange in his behaviour. This is a book where nothing is quite as it seems and the reader, like Mary, does not know who to trust.

This is not a romance in the normal sense. Mary is very clear-sighted about her attraction to Jem and has no time for romanticised expectations or dreams.

One thing that surprised me on this re-reading is how short the scene on the shore is and that the building Jamaica Inn is actually inland. The sea and the smuggling made such a grim impression upon me as a teenager that I really believed that the whole story took place at the shore, or on the moors near the shore. How the memory plays tricks upon one.

Definitely worth re-reading, if only for the immersion in the classic Du Maurier atmosphere of fear and intrigue.

piranha stars blue 4

Gill-Marie writes YA mystery/romances as Gill-Marie Stewart. As Gilly Stewart she also writes women’s contemporary fiction. The first book in her YA series about George and Finn is Music and Lies (try out the first chapter here).

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