Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

31 October 2014 00:55

Well we’re almost at the end of October again, how fast has this year gone in?! Anyway I did mention that I would be re-reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier again and writing about my thoughts on it around now. I re-read Jamaica Inn a wee while ago and it was interesting to compare the two, Rebecca is a much better book I think, the writing is smoother making it an easier read.

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve read Rebecca over the years, it has been one of my favourites since I first read it, probably when I was about 12 or 13. But it must be about 10 years since I have read it and I was interested to see what I felt about it now – ahem – over 40 years since I first read it.

I’m going to assume that most people will have read the book or at least seen a film of it and so already know the story, so I’m just going to chat about some of the problems that people sometimes have with it nowadays.

I know that some people have had a problem with the book in recent times because they have so little sympathy with the narrator. I doubt if this was ever a problem when the book was first published way back in 1938. Of course although the narrator eventually becomes the second Mrs de Winter that’s as close as we get to her name. Du Maurier teases us with hints about her name: “You have a very lovely and unusual name.” says Maxim de Winter to the young companion of the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper, but that’s as much as we know about her name.

She’s 21 years old, and that was a surprise to me because in my mind she was always younger, in fact when I was 12 or 13 I really identified with her as I know I would have behaved in a very similar way to her. Crippled with shyness and lacking in confidence exacerbated by being thrown into the company of very rich people, the narrator is an orphan with no family or friends to support her so it would have been unusual if she had been a brash confident type, there was just too much against her at a time when young people were expected to know their place in society, unless they were rich. So I don’t have a problem with the meekness and nerves which she is dogged by.

I suspect that the second wives of most widowers can’t help feeling that their husband is constantly comparing them with their first wife, and when that first wife is a Rebecca type, apparently adored by everyone, it would be soul destroying for all but the most confident of women. So the second Mrs de Winter is a completely believeable and likeable character for me.

She’s under the impression that she’s a disappointment as a wife to Maxim but the reader knows differently as the clues are there. Mrs de W has just missed them. “I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.” she says. But Maxim wouldn’t have been interested in her if she had been dressed like that, because that was Rebecca’s style.

Famously the book begins: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

It was a real house which inspired the beginning of the book, but I’ll talk about that in my next blogpost. If you’ve read Rebecca recently or even ages ago and want to link to a post on the book, leave a link in the comments or just leave a comment.

Blue Wicked by Alan Jones

28 October 2014 23:40

Blue Wicked is the second book from Scottish author Alan Jones and is quite different from his first one – The Cabinetmaker. Although I found the subject matter to be a bit too gruesome for my taste I can see that it will appeal to a lot of people who are less squeamish or should I say maybe don’t have such detailed and graphic an imagination as I have.

Eddie is a vet who has the unenviable task of dealing with a poor cat which has been skewered by some evil nutcase. It isn’t the first time that he has come across felines which have been tortured horribly and he knows that there is a theory that those who do such things move on to torturing and killing humans. He searches back in SSPCA files and discovers similar cases which he thinks might be linked.

When murder victims with the same injuries as the cats start turning up in Glasgow he is certain that they are connected and with the help of Catherine, a local detective, he sets out to track down the perpetrator.

As I have already implied, this book was way out of my comfort zone, and in fact I had to dive into the 1950s realms of an Angela Thirkell book as soon as I finished it, but if you enjoy a more violent and gory read such as books by Val McDermid then you’ll probably like Blue Wicked which is well written and does capture the atmosphere of misogyny and condescension which I’m sure exists within all police stations. The actual storyline is well thought out and all of the loose ends are satisfactorily tied up at the end.

Forth Bridges, Scotland

26 October 2014 23:45

bridges 3

I wanted to go and see how the construction of the new bridge across the River Forth was progressing, which meant that I had to walk underneath the Forth Road Bridge. Apart from going over it in a car I’ve rarely been up close to that one before. Actually we drove over it yesterday and had the hairiest moment ever on it as an unexpected huge gust of wind had us veering over to the other lane, nasty.

bridges 5

Anyway, I couldn’t resist taking a shot of the lovely old rail bridge, through the ‘new’ road bridge, which is actually now 50 years old.

new bridge 1

The Road Bridge is a bit the worse for wear now, it has a lot to put up with wind and salt wise so it was decided that a new bridge was needed to take some of the strain of all the traffic which uses it. Above is a photo of one of the supports for the new bridge.

new bridge 3

You can see another support in the background above. And in the photo below you can see the actual bridge stretching out to meet one of the supports, eventually.

new bridge 4

And just because I love it – I took a photo of this house in North Queensferry which overlooks all the bridges. It’s an arts and crafts design house, probably dating from around 1910 or so, so not quite old enough to have witnessed the building of the original Forth Bridge (the iron railway one) but it has seen two road bridges being built anyway.
house

Hamish McHamish – RIP

25 October 2014 23:52

I must admit that I’m not really a cat person, although I do like the look of ginger cats ( I wonder why that is!) I’ve never owned a cat – actually I believe that cats aren’t owned by anyone it’s probably more like they own people. However I did like the idea of a town having a cat, like Hamish McHamish who lived his life out in St Andrews in Fife. He was a great favourite with everyone, especially the students, but sadly he succumbed to a nasty chest infection and had to be put to sleep recently.

Susan McMullen wrote a book about him called Hamish McHamish – Cool Cat About Town.

You can see images of Hamish McHamish here.

Below is a photo of Hamish beside his bronze statue.

Hamish McHamish

Villa Mimosa by Jerrard Tickell

24 October 2014 23:19

Villa Mimosa cover

Villa Mimosa by Jerrard Tickell was first published in 1960 and the story is set mainly in France during World War II where Major Charles Addison is under cover as a watch-maker, using the alias Charles Bertin. When he is asked to mend a watch belonging to a German officer it gives him a chance to look around their headquarters. On his way back to the village he stumbles across a house called the Villa Mimosa and he discovers that it is inhabited by women who are there to serve the German officers.

In his radio report back to London he mentions the existence of the house, suspecting that he should have kept his mouth shut about it and sure enough – he should have because London come up with a crazy plan to send men in to rescue the women, putting the lives of many British soldiers at risk.

Jerrard Tickell was in the army during the war and I suspect that he felt the urge to write this book as he had witnessed many such pointless exercises in his time, dreamt up by those in London sitting safely behind desks and oblivious to the danger that they were putting others in.

I enjoyed it although the whole premise is crazy.

I had thought that I hadn’t read any other books by this author until I had a look at his Wiki and noticed that he wrote the biography of the British agent Odette which was made into a film. I read the book way back in the 1970s after having watched the film.

He also wrote Appointment with Venus and A Day to Remember, both of which were made into films. You can have a look at his Fantastic Fiction page here.

The Book of Souls by James Oswald

23 October 2014 00:25

The Book of Souls cover

At last I got around to reading The Book of Souls by James Oswald, it’s his second book and just as good as his first one I think. The setting is Edinburgh of course, where the Lothian police are struggling with a shortage of staff. It’s the run up to Christmas and an inmate at Peterhead prison has murdered the Christmas Killer aka Donald Anderson, a serial killer who killed ten women over a ten year period – all of the murders happening at Christmas.

Just after Anderson’s burial copycat murders take place in and around Edinburgh, leading Detective Constable Tony McLean to wonder if Anderson was really murdered, or had he somehow duped everyone.

As ever this is a well written book although as not many things in life are perfect, there were a few things which I could have done without. As in his first book there’s an element of spookiness in the shape of a demonic book, things like that just don’t appeal to me because demons don’t exist.

I was surprised that there’s a Glaswegian hardman/gangster character who is almost a carbon copy of one who appears in Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series, even down to them both living in a rough council estate but having two semi- detached houses knocked into one. It could be a coincidence I suppose or maybe Oswald did it deliberately as a sort of homage – weirder things have happened.

As a Glaswegian myself I do wonder why writers have to take themselves over to Glasgow when they want to find a hardman. They must exist in Edinburgh too and Dundee, Aberdeen and probably even in Auchtermuchty as well!

Two books feature in the storyline, one is about the earlier serial killer, giving precise details of his crimes and the other is The Book of Souls, the demonic bit which I could have done without.

Also I did notice that on page 53 there is a mistake in a character’s name – Peter Robertson’s name was morphed into Peterson, and for a minute I thought another character was being introduced. And if I’m really going to be nit-picking I did notice that there seemed to be people doing an awful lot of ‘errands’ which is a word which isn’t often used in Scotland ‘messages’ is more appropriate I think – well I told you I was nit-picking!

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2014 challenge, it counts towards it as although Oswald is English, he does live in Fife where he runs a 350 acre livestock farm, raising pedigree Highland cattle and New Zealand Romney sheep.

PS

James Oswald has since been on Twitter (which I am not on) – saying that he was actually born in Scotland but went to school in England, which is presumably why he has an English accent – poor soul! Also he has never read anything by Alexander McCall Smith so the similarities with his Glasgow hardman are completely coincidental.

Blast from the Past – World War I Postcard with Tsar Nicholas

21 October 2014 23:52

postcard

I think the above postcard is an interesting one, if you look closely the Russian Tsar Nicholas II is on the right hand side, just below the mouth of the cannon, he’s the one with his cap askew. I think he has some of his family with him too.

This postcard crosses two interests of mine, the First World War and Russia, pre and post revolution. The photo seems to have been taken outside the Kremlin. Sadly it hasn’t been used and has absolutely no writing on the back of it so there are no clues to the date but it must have been before March 1917 as that is when the tsar abdicated. I wonder if that cannon was ever intended for use, it seems amazingly ornate for a weapon of destruction. Maybe everything way back then was embellished in what we think of as that heavy Victorian style.

It’s a bit confusing date wise because the Russians were still using the Gregorian calandar which makes it March the 2nd when he abdicated but in the Julian calendar which we all use now it was March 15th – oh who said beware the ides of March?! Obviously it wasn’t an unlucky date for Julius Caesar only.

If you’re interested in Russian history have a look at http://history1900s.about.com/od/Russian-Revolution/a/Russian-Revolution-Timeline.htm.

The Road to the Hook of Holland

19 October 2014 23:42

In the Netherlands whoever wins a contract to build a motorway must provide artwork as part of the deal, which is why there are several enormous concrete elephants by the side of the motorway near where my brother lives. They are much bigger than lifesize. I took this photo as we were driving past on our way back home so it isn’t the best, in fact most of the photos I took are quite blurry.

landscape  elephants

The one below is of a rusty ship, rust seems to be quite a theme because there were a couple of rusty houses too.

landscape / sculpture

Below is a photo taken from the motorway on the road back to the Hook of Holland.

landscape  water

And the last three I took from the ferry as we were sailing back to Harwich from the Hook of Holland. It was a flat calm the whole way, much smoother than a train journey, which I found a bit disappointing as I do enjoy a good heaving sea but it does seem to make a lot of people heave in a different way altogether so the lack of rough seas probably came as welcome to most of the passengers.

Hook of Holland 1

Hook of Holland 2

Hook of Holland 3

Woodstock in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, England

19 October 2014 00:00

We visited Blenheim (Churchill’s birthplace) on the way back home to Scotland after our trip to the Netherlands (more of that trip at a later date but if you want to see photos of a wonderful railway station have a look over at Jack’s blogpost here) and after seeing Blenheim we looked around the village of Woodstock which is on the edge of Blenheim estate. It’s one of two villages which are on its doorstep, the other one being Bladen.

Woodstock street 1

It was a gorgeous evening, perfect for showing that golden Cotswold stone at its best.

Woodstock street 3

It was getting on for our dinner time and touring Blenheim had given us a good appetite, so it’s just as well that we found the Woodstock Arms which turned out to be a wee Scottish oasis in the Cotswolds as it had a very Scottish menu with fare such as cock-a-leekie soup, smoked salmon, chicken stuffed with haggis and cranachan. The owner of the place is of course Scottish and I must say that the food was very good.

Woodstock Arms

The village stocks are now only for show so folks like me can take photos of them. These ones don’t seem too bad as it was obviously only your legs which were locked into them, sometimes it was your head and arms too.
stocks

The house below is called Chaucer’s Cottage and it was lived in by Thomas Chaucer, Geoffrey’s brother, Thomas was Speaker of the House of Commons. I’m sure the house wouldn’t have had wooden louvre shutters on it in his day, they spoil it I think.
Chaucer's House 1

But the doorway is very attractive.

Chaucer's House 2

I had no idea that Coleridge had based his Ancient Mariner on a real person, apparently one Simom Hatley who lived in Woodstock.

mariner's house 1

In fact, this is the building which he lived in.

mariner's house 2

These ancient houses are still being used as family homes, there should be plenty of echoes of the past going on in them, but I always wonder if they have been gutted with all the history removed from them or are they still recognisably old internally.

We didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted to see while we were in that area so we’ll be going back again. I’ll have photos of Blenheim on here soon though.

Jezebel by Irene Nemirovsky

17 October 2014 00:24

Jezebel by Irene Nemirovsky was first published in 1940 and the main character is obviously based on the author’s mother.

Gladys Eysenach is on trial for the murder of her young lover. She’s still a beautiful woman although no longer young herself but she has never been able to accept that she is growing older and pretends to be much younger than she actually is. She’s self-centred, narcissistic and probably a nymphomaniac and she makes her daughter dress as a little girl so that nobody will realise just how old Gladys must be.

This is a good read although I do find Nemirovsky’s books to be so sad, you can’t forget that the author’s end came in a concentration camp. Her novels are so autobiographical, often involving a ghastly mother, and I end up thinking that every cloud has a silver lining as the author’s mother obviously gave her so much copy for her novels.

I don’t want to say too much about the book itself but after reading the introduction, which I always do after finishing a book, I was surprised to read that Nemirovsky’s mother actually had a copy of Jezebel and another of her daughter’s books – David Golder, both of which were found in her safe after her death. So the mother must have known exactly what her daughter thought of her and it wouldn’t improve the relationship, in fact I believe that when Irene was arrested her mother was busy having a high old time in the south of France, ‘entertaining’ Germans. No doubt the mother would not have risked associating herself with her daughter for fear of being discovered to be a Jew herself. At no point did she lift a finger to help Irene or her family, in fact this book must have made matters a lot worse but no doubt at the time it helped Nemirovsky to get a lot off her chest!