My dear readers, I have a few things to confess. First, before receiving this book and another du Maurier book, My Cousin Rachel, from the kind folks at Sourcebooks, I had never read any of du Maurier's books. Certainly, I had heard for her, and in fact have a copy of perhaps her most famous novel, Rebecca, in my TBR pile. So, when I was offered the books, I accepted them without doing the usual research, at least a quick glance about the plot on Amazon or elsewhere, that I do to be sure a book might be something that interests me.
So when I received Frenchman's Creek and read a synopsis of the plot, my heart sank a bit. 17th century England (not a huge fan of historical novels) passions being aroused (not a fan of romance novels) and pirates! For heavens sake....French pirates. I foresaw having to write another less than thrilled review.
Well, my dear readers, I was wrong! In fact, Frenchman's Creek turned out to be a quite enjoyable book that I would offer to you with a strong recommendation, even if it might not be your usual cup of tea. Even more so if it is your usual fare.
Our heroine, Lady Dona St. Columb, is bored and just a bit disgusted with life as a member of the aristocracy in London during the reign of Charles II. Her own participation in what starts as a prank, with one of her husband's friends, a prank that takes a bit of a nasty turn, convinces her to leave her husband and his friends to their partying ways in the capital. Taking her two young children and a small staff, she leaves for a summer's stay at her husband's remote and rarely used estate on the wild coast of Cornwall. Well, at least not used by it's owners, because she arrives to find that in their absence, a famous pirate, who has been attacking estates along the coast, has been using the house as his temporary base of operation. But the Frenchman is no ordinary pirate, as he himself will admit.
“There are no dark problems about it. I have no grudge against society, no bitter hatred of my fellow-men. It just happens that the problems of piracy interest me, suit my particular bent of thought.”He is intelligent, and charming and as fast as you can say swashbuckling, Dona is finding herself falling under his spell and finding an outlet for the adventure and escape and fulfillment she so craves.
“It seems to her, as they sat there side by side, without a word, that she has never known peace before, until this moment, that all the restless devils inside her who fought and struggled so often for release were, because of this silence and his presence, now appeased. She felt, in a sense, like someone who had fallen under a spell, under some strange enchantment, because this sensation of quietude was foreign to her, who had lived hitherto in a turmoil of sound and movement.”She finds an escape and an adventure in her brief role, acting as his cabin boy..which I admit sound like the straight line for a smutty joke. But while this book is sometimes considered a precursor of the modern day bodice rippers, you will find no smut here and only vague references to the physical side of their relationship. No, this is more about soul mates, like-minded in their adventure. But it is an adventure that seems destined to have an unhappy outcome, as her husband arrives from London to assist his neighbors in their attempts to capture the Frenchman, once and for all, and she will have to choose between her previous life, including her children, and a life that seems like a fantasy. Happily ever after seems unlikely....
From the quotes, you can get a sense of du Maurier's writing style, that is rather florid and yet that I found very readable. The setting, on the wild Cornish coast, is appealing, and most of all, for whatever their faults, and they do have some faults, especially our heroine, the characters are very appealing. I was especially taken with the Frenchman's right hand man, William, whom he left at the estate, acting as the butler in his absences, while the pirate is off doing what pirates do... pirating. He is a very amusing and wise sidekick and gets some of the best dialogue in the book. Surprising, there is a good bit of humor in the book, and a lot of it comes from the mouth of my man William.
Overall, there is a very modern feel to the novel, for a book set in the late 1600's and published in 1942, over 65 years ago. It actually addresses some interesting questions, such as the limits on the roles of women and issues of gender. Dona discuses at one point..a point that sadly it seems I failed to mark...that she wishes she had been born a man, that part of her seems to be male, an idea that it seems du Maurier herself shared. That would certainly raise some interesting questions about her relationship with the pirate then...
In sum, an entertaining, very well written story, quite a bit more than a bare outline of the story might lead you to expect. Well, that is unless you already have a thing for pirates, as I am sure several of you most likely do. Some people do not consider it du Maurier's best book and when it was first released, it was to mixed reviews. Actually, that is grand from my point of view, because then I still have the best ahead of me to read!
And just a word about this edition, recently published by Sourcebooks. It is a very nice trade paperback, very attractive, with, in my opinion, a lovely cover. And you know I am one to sometimes judge a book by it's cover! Ok, maybe not actually judge the book itself, but I do like an attractive cover and it does add to the pleasure of a book for me. This one is a winner, on several scores.
Available From Amazon
..for some other points of view, check out these reviews...
The Book Nest