I love Daphne du Maurier; whenever I pick up one of her books I know I’m guaranteed a good read. Although this one was not as good as some and I can certainly understand why it’s one of her less popular books, it still kept me gripped for all 300+ pages. I’m pleased I can say that because, having read other opinions on this book, I was concerned that it might be the first du Maurier novel that I wouldn’t like.
Published in 1972 her final novel, Rule Britannia, imagines that the UK has broken away from Europe to form an alliance with the US. This new nation will be known as USUK. The first twenty-year-old Emma knows about this is when she wakes up one morning to find that the tranquil corner of Cornwall where she lives is now under American occupation – there’s an American warship in the harbour, American marines stationed in the area and roadblocks on the routes leading in and out of the town. Already the Queen is visiting the White House and the President is preparing to come to Buckingham Palace. Despite reassurances from the government that the formation of USUK is essential for Britain’s economic and military stability, Emma’s family, friends and neighbours begin to grow increasingly concerned about the exact nature of the alliance and the effect it will have on their previously peaceful lives.
It can’t happen here, thought Emma, it can’t happen here, that’s what people in England have always said, even in wartime when they were bombed, because they were all together on their own ground. Not any more.
Although the story unfolds from Emma’s perspective, the real heroine of the story is her seventy-nine-year-old grandmother, Mad (short for Madam – unless I missed it, we aren’t told her real name), who is a retired actress. Mad and Emma live together with Mad’s six adopted boys whose ages range from three to nineteen, all of whom have suffered some form of tragedy in their early lives. Mad, even in her old age, is a strong-minded, independent woman who is determined to defend her home and family no matter what, and she plays an important part in Cornwall’s resistance to the occupying forces. But although Mad and her family believe they have been invaded, I should point out that we’re told the majority of British people are very happy with the alliance and that it’s only a small percentage of the population who are rebelling against it.
As with most Daphne du Maurier novels, this one does have some suspenseful and unsettling moments. I know from my past experience of her work that nothing is ever quite as it seems and I was wondering what surprises and twists she might have in store for the reader – but unfortunately I found the way the book ended slightly disappointing because I felt there was a lot more she could have done with the story. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact that one of Mad’s adopted sons, three-year-old Ben who happens to be black, appeared to have been included simply as an excuse to make racist jokes. The book was a product of the 1970s I suppose, but these comments are offensive rather than funny. These negative points, along with the overall strangeness of the book, stopped me from enjoying it as much as I’ve enjoyed her other books. It doesn’t compare to her best work and if you’re new to Daphne du Maurier I would suggest starting somewhere else.