Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Book 10 Review: Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

My 10th book this year was the timeless gothic romantic novel 'Rebecca', by Daphne Du Maurier. First published in 1938 the novel follows a young woman who marries the older Max DeWinter, whose glamorous and beautiful first wife, Rebecca, recently died.  The novel is full of eerie suspense and a sense of disquiet as the narrator recounts her tale of Manderlay, their house haunted by the memory of the late Rebecca DeWinter. 'Rebecca' is a captivating novel and not a challenging read. It would be a great read for those who don't often read the Classic novels and for those who fall asleep at the very mention of Dickens or Austen.

The book cover of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier from the 70's edition I read.
The narrator, a young and naïve woman, remains unnamed throughout the book, a clever literary technique designed to emphasise the lingering presence of the former Mrs DeWinter, however I just thought I had missed reading the narrator's name for the first few chapters and kept trying to look back for her name. Duh.

My first impression of the novel was that it was not as dark as I thought it would be. I imagined attacks in the night, hauntings, disembodied heads floating down long corridors (okay I didn't really imagine that)....

It is a common mistake for modern readers to hear the words gothic novel and expect the literary equivalent of Paranormal Activity. However, Gothic novels like Frankenstein, Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights rely on suspense, on a subtle yet all pervasive feeling of unease to bring a chill to reader's spines. This is a skill that has been lost in the modern age where filmmakers and authors require increasingly shocking and dramatic situations in order to make their audiences to feel frightened.
Daphne du Maurier masters the art of subtle unease and anticipatory dread in Rebecca. With each page turn you almost cringe (in my case it was mostly because my old copy was falling apart), not knowing when the state of uneasy calm will break.

One part of 'Rebecca' I found hilarious was when the characters in 'Rebecca' spoke about the weather being over 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 26 degrees Celsius).

Well everyone could sure cope well with the weather in 1930's Britain...

For someone who lives in a rather temperate part of Australia, where the summer-time minimum temperatures sometimes do not dip below 26 degrees I had a good laugh at these wimps.

The Good bits

'Rebecca' was easy to read. The novel has all the conventions of a 19th century Gothic novel, but has been written in the 1930's and is full of familiar and not overly complex language. Old stodgy language normally turns off readers from attempting the classics (it stopped me for many years), so Rebecca is a good introduction before delving straight into Wuthering Heights or Frankenstein.

The Not So Good Bits

One character in the novel which really rankled me was a man, Ben, the 'local idiot'. This is the narrator speaking about Ben after meeting him on the beach.

This passage is meant to hold some irony, with Ben potentially knowing some crucial information later in the novel. However at the key moment, when du Maurier could have had Ben become much more than the local 'simpleton', he fails to do so, afraid of being mistreated, thus relegating Ben to the ranks of a truly useless character. It made me sad to read these descriptions of Ben, reminding me how many people with disabilities were (and still are) passed off as idiots and fools. The narrator in the passage above even supposing what Ben must be like without the slightest effort made to get to know or understand him. I am more than aware that times have thankfully changed since the 1930's, but too often in society, people with disabilities are brushed off just like Ben, not recognised for their own strengths, personalities and capacity.
Okay. Rant over.


3.5 out of 5 sweaty Englishmen

Want More?

Some other novels similar to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier are;

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn.

The Next Book:

My next novel is The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion.


Friday, 4 April 2014

Book 9 Review & Interview: The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals, Wendy Jones

My 9th Book this year was the lovely novel 'The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals' by British author Wendy Jones. It was a book I thoroughly enjoyed and only took me a day to read. In exciting news, Wendy Jones, the author of  'The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals'  kindly agreed to be interviewed for All Booked Up 2014. This is All Booked Up's first exclusive interview dear readers, and you are in for a treat!

The beautiful book cover of The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones

Due to the fact that Australia is ahead of everywhere else in the world (in time and number of animals per square kilometre that want to kill you), the interview was conducted via email.

Basically this interview is better than interviewing J.K. Rowling.

Amejoys: There is nothing better than having an author describe a novel in her own words. So this is the perfect time to ask if you could you please describe your novel, ‘The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals’, to my blog readers? 
Wendy Jones: The novel is about an undertaker, Wilfred Price, in 1924 west Wales. He inadvertently proposes to a woman he likes but soon realises his mistake, especially when he meets Flora. The novel is about Wilfred's work and romantic life and the constraints and gentleness of the time. 
I have never been to the UK, let alone to Wales, yet I found myself so easily transported to the small Welsh town of Narberth in which the novel was set. Your descriptions of the physical environment almost made the town seem like a character, was that your intention?  
 I very much wanted Narberth to be a character and to give the novel a very specific sense of place, to have it rooted. 

I Imagined 1920's Narberth looked just like this
For a novel that is so often described as ‘charming’, the novel does touch on some serious issues (which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t read it yet). When writing your novel did you aim to balance the good with the bad, as life often does? 
Mostly I wanted the novel to be comforting; there is dark subject matter and it was important that there was a range for me, of what is light and easy, and what is hard to accept. 
If ‘The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals’ was made into a movie, who would be your ideal actors to portray Wilfred, Grace, Flora and Dr Reece? 
If the novel becomes a movie, I have no idea who would play the parts! Perhaps Antony Hopkins as Dr Reece! I see the characters in my mind's eye so clearly, I can't imagine them as anyone other than they are.


Exclusive! You heard it here first! Sir Anthony Hopkins to play Dr Reece in the movie adaption of The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals. Haha.  
Cover art does have a large part in how readers choose books in bookstores. The old adage tells us not to judge a book by its cover, but the edition I read, with the blue and gold cover, was beautiful.  Are you happy with the look of the book? Who did the cover art?
I like the cover very much; it is clear and distinctive. I had no say in it but am very pleased with it. 
When I first finished ‘The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price..' I was almost disappointed in the choices of both Grace and Flora. I felt they both made choices that these days would make a feminist cringe. But on reflection, I realised that Grace (And to some extent, Flora) did not have the opportunities that women do today, and that their decisions were not choices, but rather the outcome of events which they coped rather well with. Did you deliberately create storylines for Grace and Flora that would in some way highlight the challenges that women faced in the 1920s?
I thought of Grace and Flora as women of their time, as we all are, and their lives were circumscribed by their time, as ours are. I am not sure how free any of us are, especially women, although Flora and Grace both think of themselves as freer than their mother's and grandmother's generations. 
Did you find it difficult to transition from writing non-fiction with your Biography of Grayson Perry, to writing a novel? Do you prefer writing non-fiction, or fiction?
I didn't find the transition from non-fiction to novel writing difficult - they are both the same in that they both demand narrative, and follow strict rules of what a writer has to do to engage a reader. I like writing both; they both fascinate me. 


The book cover of The World is A Wedding, the sequel to The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals  by Wendy Jones 


I am very excited to have discovered that you have written a sequel to ‘The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price..', called 'The World Is A Wedding'. Where does this novel pick up, and does it still focus on Wilfred?
The sequel The World is a Wedding starts almost immediately after The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price ends and it is about Wilfred, but also Grace and Flora, as the lives of all three are interwoven more than they realise or perhaps had wanted. They are connected and need resolution and peace with each other and Wilfred, too, feels guilty about how he has treated Grace and the guilt is bothering him.


A huge THANK YOU to Wendy Jones for answering my questions.
And a bigger thank you for bringing us such a lovely novel!
Pop into your local bookstore and buy a copy of  'The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals' or the sequel 'The World is a Wedding', you won't be disappointed!

The Good Bits:

For a novel that does deal with some complicated and emotional subjects, it is, as Wendy Jones herself described, a comforting book. It is a charming and enjoyable novel, and will make you want to snuggle up with a pot of tea and buttered welsh cakes and read for a whole day!

The Not So Good Bits:

As I mentioned to Wendy, the ending did leave my feminist senses twitching, but as Wendy explained, the lives of the female characters realistically and truthfully reflected the lives of many women of the 1920s.


4 1/2 of 5 bicycling gentlemen.

Want more?

If you liked 'The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals'  by Wendy Jones you might like:

Notwithstanding, Louis de Bernieres, The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
The Next book:

I have read Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, a very interesting novel, which also happened to be set (and written) in the early 1900's.
I have entered All Booked Up 2014 into The Best Australian Blogs Competition. If you like what I write and enjoy my gratuitous use of GIFs please click on the picture below and send a vote my way! Tick the box in the survey next to "All Booked Up 2014".