Book Review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

jamaica innI just saw the movie, Crimson Peak, about a week ago, and immediately rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble to grab a copy of any Gothic romance I could put my hands on, which is how I ended up with one of Daphne du Maurier’s most memorable works, Jamaica Inn. According to the jacket copy, it was one of three works made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, the others being Rebecca and “The Birds”. I knew about Rebecca, but not the other two.

Daphne du Maurier is considered a master storyteller by many, and an icon of the gothic romance genre. Guillermo del Toro refers to film adaptations of gothic romances such as du Maurier’s Rebecca and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of his inspiration for Crimson Peak, and as a writer, I’m hoping to sort of mentally dissect the tropes played out in both the movie and in Jamaica Inn.

There are a million articles all about del Toro and his take on Gothic romance. I don’t think the term was coined yet back in 1936, when du Maurier published Jamaica Inn, but both are chock full of the tropes we associate with that genre today. There must be a sense of foreboding throughout. The atmosphere is grim and bleak right from the beginning. The landscape is part of the sense of horror, and there’s always a big, crumbling mansion full of secrets. And let’s not forget a dark and mysterious stranger who might be a villain, or not, but the heroine is usually drawn to him despite herself.

crimson peakThe thing I really liked about Jamaica Inn is how the heroine, Mary Yellen, is fairly feminist and progressive for her time. She talks about being independent and doing “man’s work” on her farm to make a living. She’s not afraid to be alone or to stand up for herself, which she does fairly frequently. Of course, this is cut down a little by the men treating her as helpless and ignorant, just because she’s a woman, but our plucky heroine often uses this to her advantage, surprising her aggressors. Also, there is actually very little romance in this story. I think the romantic aspects are used as just another thread of tension in the plot. We’re left wondering, as Mary is, if the attractive stranger is worth trusting or not. Mary ultimately decides that she’s better off trusting herself, but she’s led astray and ends up trusting the wrong person, leading to an exciting and harrowing chase scene across the bleak and foggy moors of Cornwall.

If you’ve seen Crimson Peak, then you’ll recognize a lot of the same tropes. The lonely plot of land in windswept England. The big, crumbling mansion. The secrets of the family. And most importantly, the inability of the heroine to trust the man she supposedly loves to keep her safe; a decision that leads her to trust only herself, which almost leads to her downfall. But in the end, no man saves her, and she survives on her own wits and her ability to face her fears. The film is gorgeous and atmospheric, and exactly what you would expect out of a true Gothic romance. I think I’m pretty much hooked on this genre for the moment, and I highly recommend Jamaica Inn if you’re interested in delving into this genre yourself.

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Short Fiction Roundup: Halloween Edition!

This Saturday is Halloween, and what better way to count down the days than to read some free short fiction of a spooky nature? I’ve rounded up some excellent specimens for your perusal below. Enjoy!

plunderpuss_HungryDaughtersHungry Daughters of Starving Mothers

© 2015 by Alyssa Wong | Art © 2015 by Plunderpuss

by Max Gladstone

PUBLISHED ON TOR.COM | October 29, 2014

© 2014 by Max Gladstone | Art © 2014 by Dave Palumbo

Vlad has grown distant from his wife. His son has trouble at school. And he has to keep his sharp teeth hidden.

This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by editor Marco Palmieri.

Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone. Read more here.

nightmarecoverIt Was Never the Fire

He was the kid who looked at the sun too long. He hunted for lighters like sharks hunted for blood. Christ intrigued him for all the wrong reasons.

He only ate smoke.

Cigarette smoke. Wood smoke. Car exhaust. Incense. Liquid nitrogen on rare occasions.

Smoke. 

Read more here.

Lyssa_JasonRainville_LargeDisplay-500x647Blood and Stardust

by Laird Barron

PUBLISHED ON Far Fetched Fables, Episode 73 | September 8, 2015

© 2015 by Laird Barron | Art © 2015 by Jason Rainville | Narrated by Nikolle Doolin

Three years later, as I hike my skirt to urinate in a dark alley in the slums of Kolkata, my arms are grasped from behind. The Doctor whispers, “So, we meet again.” His face was ruined in the explosion — its severe, patrician mold is melted and crudely reformed as if an idiot child had gotten his or her stubby fingers on God’s modeling clay. I can’t see it from my disadvantaged perspective, but that’s not necessary. I’ve been following him and Pelt around since our original falling out. Listen to the full story here.

fantasy scrollSea Found

by L R Hieber

PUBLISHED IN Fantasy Scroll Magazine Issue #9 | October 2015

© 2015 by L R Hieber

Something heavy hung in the air the summer the ghost and I finally met. Lovecraft was right: New England is inherently odd. But, in the end, that’s a good thing…..

Read more here.

And last, but certainly not least, here’s a perfectly ghoulish tale to get you in the Christmas spirit!

poe-ho-hoOne More for Christmas Dinner

by David Barnett

PUBLISHED ON Postcards from the Hinterland, the author’s personal website

© 2009 by David Barnett | Art © unknown

Here comes Poe, tramping through the snow at the dying of the day, his passage along the slush-covered pavement kept on even keel by the ballast of the full-to-groaning bags-for-life that dangle from each woollen-clad hand.

Bags-for-life! The irony was not lost on Poe as he hefted each cotton sack to better distribute the weight. Bags-for-life! But he had never got on very well with the plastic carrier bags, hated the way they stretched and ripped, their handles cutting into his hands even through the knitted gloves he always wore, whether snow or sunshine, rain or wind.

Consider Poe. A man was never better named, some might say. Consider that tombstone brow, the sparse hair the colour of ashes, the sallow complexion, the nose that hung from his face like a death sentence delivered by a stone-faced judge. Consider the thin line of a mouth beneath that nose, straight and true like the final layer of bricks sealing a man into a cellar, say. Consider the eyes, grey and dry, very much like the afterlife might look. Read more here.

Want more? Check out Nathan Ballangrud‘s “Skullpocket” over on io9!

Short Fiction Review – Martin Cahill and Nancy Hightower

Short fiction is a new realm for me. I’m completely fascinated with structure and how people write, so I’m taking a critical look at short fiction magazines lately as a sort of hobby of mine. I am lucky enough to count several writers among my friends, including Martin Cahill and Nancy Hightower, and it’s been a privilege to read their recently published short stories. I am blown away by their talent, and I wanted to share my thoughts on each of their stories here.

coverI discovered Nancy’s story, “Bound,” when she read it at the New York Review of Science Fiction reading series earlier in the year. I have a problem with fidgeting at readings, but this time I was completely engrossed in the story, and I knew I had to read it again when it came out in Bourbon Penn in February. This story is very surreal, and what I love about it is that you don’t really know what’s real and what’s imaginary, but it has enough emotional depth and engagement with the characters that you know what you WANT to be real. You can read the full story for free here. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Nightmare_19_April_2014-200x300The second story, “It Was Never the Fire,” by my friend Martin Cahill, is the second of his that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but the first published story that the rest of you absolutely should read yourselves. This story was published today in the April issue of Nightmare Magazine, so a hearty congratulations goes out to Marty! Marty is a very talented new writer who is about to start a new adventure this summer at Clarion Writer’s Workshop in San Diego (I’m completely jealous), and after having read his work, I can see him becoming a very strong voice in the genre in the future. “It Was Never the Fire” is a beautifully poetic, dark, and surreal story that just grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. I devoured this one. Marty has a gift with the way he uses language to instantly captivate the reader and bring them right into the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with in the future. GO READ THIS STORY NOW. It’s free, and I want to know if you love it as much as I do.