“…the pompous mouthings of my hero…” #DDMreadingweek


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!!!

Some thoughts on Daphne du Maurier for #DDMreadingweek


This week has seen HeavenAli’s wonderful initiative of the Daphne du Maurier Reading Week – and I have to confess up front that I shall once again fail to read a book in time to join in… It’s not as if I don’t have two possible titles lined up, both of which I’m eager to read, and here they are:

Both have elements which make me very keen to read them: “I’ll Never Be Young Again” is du Maurier’s second novel and sounds quite fascinating. She adopts a male narrator’s voice and parts are set in Paris, so that’s of course right up my street. And “The Glassblowers” is set in the French Revolution so once again it’s ideal reading. Alas, time and other reading commitments are against me this week, so I shall have to save them for the right moment…

My first encounter with Daphne du Maurier was actually a long, long time ago when I read “The House on the Strand” in my teens. My edition, which I don’t think I have any more, looked like this:

Although it’s decades since I read it, I have happy memories of the book and have often considered revisiting it; though there’s always the risk of a disappointment when re-reading after such a long break. But apart from this, I’m *fairly* sure I’ve not read any other novels by du Maurier, particularly her most famous titles “Rebecca” and “Jamaica Inn” – which is a little shocking really. The trouble is, the plots are so well known, that I can never be sure…

However, I *did* very much enjoy “The Breakthrough“, one of du Maurier’s short stories which I read as part of my Penguin Moderns set:

You can read my thoughts here, and I must admit that I’d be keen to read more of her short works; this was a particularly striking story and it impressed me very much.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying reading everyone’s posts on Daphne du Maurier and if you check out Ali’s blog she has a dedicated page for the week which will no doubt send you off in all directions seeing what everyone has been reading. I do hope she decides to do a DDM reading week next year – if I get organised far enough in advance I might actually manage to take part! ;D

Penguin Moderns 3 and 4 – striking women authors


Aren’t they pretty??? 🙂

The lure of my lovely Penguin Moderns is proving too hard to resist, despite all the big books on the pile demanding my attention! The next two in the series are by some big hitters among female authors, Daphne du Maurier and Dorothy Parker. Both of these are writers I’ve read and loved before, but it’s a long time since I read either, so this is a timely revisit! I love the fact this set is prompting me to go to places I wouldn’t normally at the moment!

Penguin Modern 3 – The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier

Although I’ve read du Maurier, most of it was a long time ago and to be honest I couldn’t be sure exactly which books they were. I’m pretty sure I read Rebecca, and I know I read The House on the Strand as a teenager because I was very struck with it. This little volume features one work, the story of the title, and a powerful piece it is indeed.

The book is narrated by Steve, an engineer, who’s sent off to the wilds of the east cost to a strange, deserted kind of research complex where some rather odd experiments are taking place. Headed by the obsessed Mac, the small group is ostensibly undertaking experiments with sound frequencies, and having managed to train the appropriately named camp dog Cerberus to respond to these. However, more worryingly, they’ve also tapped into the frequency of a local small girl, who has what we would now call learning difficulties. The survivor of a pair of twins, she’s become crucial to the underlying, hidden research going on at the base, which is to try to find out what happens to the essence of a human when they die. The results are unexpected…

This was a dark and somewhat unsettling story, focusing very much on science, what it can do, what perhaps it shouldn’t do, the link between twins, life after death and a lot more. du Maurier keeps the tension ramped up and the atmosphere unsettling, and I ended the story a bit rattled really! Which is probably what she intended…. I’ve never read any of her shorter works before but I must admit I’m keen to now.

Penguin Modern 4 – The Custard Heart by Dorothy Parker

I’m on slightly more familiar territory with this one, as I have had a copy of The Collected Dorothy Parker since my teens. Her poem Résumé was always popular amongst my group of angst-ridden BFFs but we always appreciated her wit too. PM4 features three short works – the title story, Big Blonde and You Were Perfectly Fine. The Custard Heart is the story of a selfish and self-centred society woman, Mrs. Lanier; totally vacant and obsessed with her wistful appearance, her heart is indeed as soft and brainless as a bowl of custard, and while real life goes on around her she wafts around in a world of unreality. Never has Parker’s satirical scalpel been so sharp!!

Big Blonde, the longest story in the book, tells of Hazel; something of a good time girl and known as a Good Sport, she in fact suffers from an excess of emotion. Her constant friendships with men and her brief marriage leave her with a void in her life; and even her attempt to leave it meet with no success.

You Were Perfectly Fine is short and brilliant; a young man, recovering from a night of heavy drinking and high jinks, finds that he may have said things to his companion that he might regret in the long term…

Three wonderful, witty, pithy and clever pieces of writing from Dorothy Parker; I can see why I’ve always loved her work and I can see that I’m going to have to re-read more of her soon. There’s a depth here that you might not expect, but then satire often has a serious purpose. The stories are described as being of women on the edge, which maybe doesn’t do them justice; the women in the stories are coping with a man’s world and an imperfect world in the ways they know best, and it’s fascinating to watch.


So – the second two Penguin Moderns have been as good as the first two. Although both of these writers are female, the books couldn’t be more different; but both are just brilliant in what they do and say. I can’t wait to read more of this set! 🙂

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