Not long ago I read Rebecca by du Maurier and loved it so much that I decided I needed to look into more of her works, ergo, Jamaica Inn. I really didn’t know much about it and by the time I got around to listening to it, I’d forgotten anything that was written in the sales blurb, so the whole book was a complete surprise for me.
As du Maurier delved into Mary Yellen’s circumstances and life, I suddenly began to worry that this would be a very dreary, slow read, but as it turns out, it’s not. Even though she is really looking into the dark, unseemly side of life, the plot doesn’t dwell on it, but focuses on the mystery surrounding Jamaica Inn and its occupants. Mary’s mother dies, so Mary, as it was her mother’s wish, goes to live with her Aunt Patience at Jamaica Inn. Even before Mary arrives, she cottons onto there being something unseemly about the place from the attitude of the coach driver who seems reluctant to take her there. Mary, however, is used to hardship, loneliness and poverty and also wants to honour her mother’s wish, so she goes anyway.
From the onset it’s clear that life there is not happy. The Inn is a dirty mess, most of which is unused and looks neglected. There are no customers, indeed, customers are not welcome unless by express wish of the landlord, her uncle Joss. Joss is a hard man who tries to frighten and break Mary from the first, but quickly comes to realize that that won’t be quite so easy as it was with Patience. Far from being afraid, Mary is defiant and stands up to him leading him to leave her in relative peace as long as she stays out of his secretive and highly probably illegal business. Carts and people come and go in the night at Jamaica Inn, even though it is deserted during the day. There’s also a locked room into which only Joss is allowed. Mary would flee but for not wanting to desert her aunt whom she feels needs her.
Because of the situation, Mary finds herself in continual emotional turmoil. She’s afraid for her aunt, loathes her uncle, fears she will hang as an accomplice should Joss’ activities be found out and finally, she meets Jem, Joss’ brother who is a self-professed horse thief, but attracts Mary all the same. She has only one confidant, the Vicar of a near-by town, yet even that connection brings her no peace.
It’s not for nothing that Hitchcock based a film on this book. It has all the Gothic secrecy and excitement Hitchcock could have wished for. The only thing I didn’t care for in this book was that the du Maurier’s superb use of language gets lost a bit in the subject matter. That may, of course, only be down to the reader being caught up in it in the first reading and trying to figure out what is going on. I’ll have to read it a second time to see if my assertion holds true or not.
All in all, not as good as Rebecca, but still a mighty good read. 4/5