Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (re-read)

After her mother’s death, Mary Yellan goes to live with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss at their inn on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. But during the coach journey to her new home, Mary hears some disturbing things about Jamaica Inn and its landlord. Soon Mary makes her own shocking discoveries about Joss Merlyn’s activities and finds herself drawn into his villainous schemes while trying to protect her frightened, nervous Aunt Patience. And when Mary is befriended by two very different men – one of them her uncle’s horse thief brother, Jem Merlyn, and the other Francis Davey, the albino vicar of Altarnun – she must decide which, if either, she can trust.

This was actually a re-read for me, although it’s been so long since I first read it that all the details of the plot had completely faded from my mind. What I did remember was being disappointed. When I read it for the first time it was immediately after finishing Rebecca (which I loved – and which is still one of my favourite books ever) and Jamaica Inn just wasn’t as good. This was more than ten years ago though, so I recently decided to give it a second chance. And I did enjoy the book much more this time than I did the first time, maybe because now that I’ve read so many of du Maurier’s other novels it meant I could consider Jamaica Inn in the context of a wider body of work rather than solely in comparison with Rebecca.

Like many of du Maurier’s other books, this one is dark, gothic and atmospheric. Published in 1936 but set in the early 1800s, it has a lot of the traditional elements you would expect to find in a gothic novel (stormy weather, smugglers, locked rooms, shipwrecks, desolate moors, a remote, lonely inn). There are also some memorable characters – Mary herself is an intelligent and courageous heroine, and I know I said that I couldn’t remember much from my previous read, but I certainly hadn’t forgotten the character of her violent, brutal Uncle Joss!

So, Jamaica Inn is not one of my favourite du Maurier novels but not my least favourite either. It does not have the depth and complexity of Rebecca or some of her later novels, but then this one was written near the beginning of her career and is a good early example of her work. The plot is not particularly complicated and I found it quite predictable but du Maurier’s skill at creating tension and suspense meant that I still enjoyed reading it.

8 thoughts on “Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (re-read)

    • Helen says:

      I think my recommendation would probably be My Cousin Rachel. Of all the du Maurier books I’ve read that one is the most like Rebecca and has a similar atmosphere.

  1. Sam (Tiny Library) says:

    You know, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read anything by du Maurier. Rebecca has been on my to read pile for absolutely ages after my sister gave me her copy (she loved it), but I’ve just never read it. Thanks for reminding me that I need to get to it!

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    Seems to be a bit of a Du Maurier month, have read quite a few reviews for her now. Personally I have only read Rebecca, and The Birds and Other Stories so far but loved both of them. Jamaica Inn is on my tbr list but the general concensus has been I should try My Cousin Rachel next.

    • Helen says:

      I had The Birds and Other Stories from the library a few years ago, read The Birds and never got around to the rest. I’ll have to look out for that book again so I can read the stories that I missed!

  3. Katrina says:

    I enjoyed Jamaica Inn too but I always end up comparing all of her books with Rebecca which is a bit unfair I suppose. I’ve enjoyed a lot of her short stories fairly recently and The King’s General.

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