Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier

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.

13 thoughts on “Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier

  1. Jessica says:

    I love du Maurier so I will read this at some point, some of her books aren’t quite up to her usual standard but the concept of this is interesting, thanks for the offensive comments warning. I hope to read all her books one day.

    • Helen says:

      None of her other books match up to Rebecca, in my opinion, but I still enjoy reading them. I hope to get through all her books eventually too – I think I’ve read about half of them now.

  2. Jo says:

    I had not heard of this one. So another one to add to the pile. I must endeavour in July to read at least one Daphne du Maurier.

    • Helen says:

      It’s definitely not one of her better known books and I can understand why. I still enjoyed it, though. I hope you get time to read a du Maurier book in July!

  3. BuriedInPrint says:

    I’m not a committed lover of her work; I think the fact that I really enjoy some aspects of her work makes me all-the-more impatient with the parts that niggle. Nonetheless, I can’t seem to pass up pretty little copies of her books when I see them in second-hand shops, and do have a copy of this one, so I’ll get to it someday, with your warning in mind.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy it when you get round to it. I’d be interested to know what you think, as opinions are so divided on this one. It’s probably my least favourite du Maurier so far.

  4. Lyn says:

    I enjoyed Rule Britannia too. It is different from her other novels & wasn’t well reviewed at the time but I enjoyed it. The atmosphere of uncertainty & threat reminded me of her short story The Birds.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it did have a similar atmosphere to The Birds. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to after seeing other people’s reviews of it!

  5. everybookandcranny says:

    Wow, thanks for this review. I’ve never seen this book reviewed before. I picked up a vintage copy of it about a year ago at a used book sale. I kinda figured when I bought it that it wouldn’t be one of du Maurier’s best since I’d never heard of it before. I will definitely get around to it one of these days.

    My favorite du Maurier so far (besides the infamous Rebecca) is The Scapegoat.

    • Helen says:

      I’d be interested to see your thoughts on it if you get around to reading it. It’s not one of her best but definitely still worth reading. And The Scapegoat is one of my favourites too, after Rebecca.

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