For the last few years, the lovely blogger HeavenAli has hosted a Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, and so far I have spectacularly failed to take part. However I was determined that this year I would read something by DDM for the event and decided to start early. I have two of her books on the TBR, which have been lurking there waiting for the Reading Week all this time, and they’re “I’ll Never Be Young Again” and “The Glassblowers”. I had a look at the start of each of them and decided to plump for “I’ll Never…” – which was perhaps a mistake… 😳

“I’ll Never Be Young Again”, first published in 1932, was DDM’s second novel, and it’s narrated by a young man called Richard. The book is split into two sections, “Jake” and “Hesta”, and as the story begins we encounter Richard on a bridge in London, about to throw himself into the Thames. He’s obviously in a highly emotional, highly strung state; however, a passerby persuades him not to jump. This is Jake, a slightly older man who convinces Richard that he’s better off staying alive, and the two set off on some travels, hopping aboard a ship, working alongside the crew as they head off to Scandinavia, exploring fjords, meeting up with other young people and generally having plenty of adventures. However, this section ends dramatically, and the second part of the book sees Richard in Paris, attempting to find himself as a writer, mixing with a bohemian set, and shacking up with Hesta, a young music student. Things do not quite go as he plans, however, and the end of the book finds him moving into his more mature years in a very different situation.

So that’s a rough idea of the plot (and I confess some slight spoilers might slip in as I go on to discuss this book); but where was the problem? Well, the issue for me was Dick himself, who I’m afraid really did live up to his name…

Our narrator is the son of a national institution, a famous poet, and grew up in a household totally centred around the poetic genius. Living in a rich but cold atmosphere, he’s obviously very damaged, dominated by his father, and when we meet him on the bridge he’s run away from home after showing his parents some obscene poetry he’s written. He’s needy and immature, ridiculously naive, and so emotional! His behaviour is over-erratic, with mood swings almost from sentence to sentence, and this does overdo things a bit. In his relationship with Jake he’s incredibly demanding, and although I suspected homo-erotic undertones, nothing is ever spelled out although the two seem to be very close! Dick is so demanding of Jake that I did wonder how the latter put up with him – but then Jake is a complex man himself, having spent some time in jail for manslaughter.

The second section of the book reveals just how ghastly Dick is; his treatment of Hesta is vile, causing her to lose her focus on her music and in effect become a good time girl. He basically forces her into sleeping with him (I could use the R-word) but refuses to marry her because it’s a bourgeois thing. However, his view of sexuality is bizarre, as he considers her to have ‘ruined’ herself by developing a liking for sex – the usual double standards! I guess this was DDM portraying a typical male attitude – well, I hope so… Ironically, the end of the book sees a very different Richard who moves to a new phase, glad he is through that part of his life and will never be young again. Truly, youth really *is* wasted on the young…

So where are my thoughts after finishing the book? Conflicted, I think… Our insufferable narrator makes the book something of a battle in places, and even though I suspect DDM was trying to demonstrate the folly and selfishness of youth, he was just so unbearable as to make me want to chuck the book into the nearest fire. I know it isn’t necessary to like characters in a book, but Richard’s extreme selfishness is very hard to accept although I suppose it’s a tribute to her writing skill that she could create such a ghastly character – although I’m not sure that she necessarily meant him to be quite so detestable!

…I would lose myself in a conversation of trivial things where poetry was scorned; I would go where there were no trees and no placid grazing deer but the hot dust of a city and the scream of moving things, where life was a jest and a laugh, where life was an oath and a tear, where people hated and people loved, and beauty meant no empty word in the cool impersonality of a poem but the body of a woman. And so on, and so on, I dreamt with the pen still clutched between my fingers and the poor hidden life in me yearning to be free.

However, standing back and looking at the writing, I felt disappointed at times; the conversations are in particular a bit of a let down, coming across as very stilted when compared with the beautiful, often stream of consciousness descriptions. DDM really *could* write, and there were some beautiful parts in the first half of the book capturing the world on board ship, the feelings of fighting against the elements, the wonder of encountering mountains and fjords. These lifted the book, so much so that I think I struggled even more in dealing with Dick and his tantrums!

Looking back on “I’ll Never Be Young Again” I think in the end it was not a total disaster, but I can understand why it draws such violently different responses from readers. The downsides really affected my reading of the book and I’m still not sure if DDM intended it to be received like that, or whether it was a young novelist’s book; and indeed one which drew upon her own issues and family background, as from the little I know of this, I could see resonances. Certainly, if this had been the first of DDM’s books I’d read, I don’t know that I would have gone back to her. So I’m sorry my first participation in the #DDMReadingWeek is not as positive as I would have liked – but at least I did join in!!!