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Monday, 5 May 2008
by Justine Picardie
Justine Picardie’s novel takes you through an episode in the life of Daphne du Maurier, and into her home Menabilly (the inspiration for Manderley in her most famous work - Rebecca). As you follow the story, everywhere you turn, you bump into the ghost of Rebecca.
Justine has created a Menabilly/Manderley so compelling that you will be haunted by its ghosts as much as Daphne is. The plot roams along corridors and through doors, some open and some closed, reflecting the structure of the old house itself.
Manderley broods over the novel in the same way it broods over ‘Rebecca’ and it provides both a physical and a metaphorical structure for the novel. The narrative takes you backwards and forwards in time and into the house’s lost and forbidden corners. The writing is full of literary illusions and allusions that delight and capture the imagination. The plot is threaded through with tricks of time and place as Justine Picardie explores and punctures the barriers between reality and fiction.
Daphne tells the story of the life of Daphne du Maurier, woven around her writing and the labyrinthine journey it takes her on as she writes a biography of Branwell Brontё. Her path is littered with characters you will already know, some real and others of literary origin, such as Rebecca and Peter Pan.
She has also accomplished the neat trick of making all the characters sympathetic on at least some level. Many are deeply flawed – for example, Daphne’s husband Tommy’s alcoholism and depression mirrors that of Branwell – but in each case the reader can forgive and understand the behaviour and find a redeeming feature in the character.
I’m left feeling that whilst this novel must have been hefty and time-consuming to write – research underpins every page – it must also have been great fun.
About two thirds of the way through, I realised that although I wanted to get to the end to find out what happens, I didn’t want to get to the end because I didn’t want to leave this confusing and moving world that Justine Picardie has created. Fittingly, the end of the novel does indeed jolt you out of that world but the characters and their ghosts will stay with you long after the final page.
reviewed by Helen M. Hunt