Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon - Book 70, 2009

Title: Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Once you read this book, you will never be able to see Peter Pan in the same way again.  Few people realise that the initial story was much darker and definitely not for children. Subtitled "The Boy Who Hated Mothers", the original demon-child Peter Pan spirited children away in the night and changed sides in the fight with the pirates of Neverland.  But somehow it evolved into a much lighter child-friendly pantomime when staged and this is the story we all know and love today.

I'm going to put in links to some very good articles about this book because it is way too complex to cover in a mere plot summary.

An obsessive stalker, an impotent husband, a lover of young boys... to some, the creator of 'Peter Pan' was an evil genius; to others, a misunderstood ingenue.
  Justine Picardie, The Telegraph, 13 July 2008

Piers Dudgeon definitely falls in the "evil genius" camp, seizing on a poignant phrase by writer DH Lawrence who upon hearing of one of Barrie's charges' deaths: "J. M Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die."

Warped since childhood following the death of his favoured brother (that he may or may not have been involved in) & rejection by his mother, J.M. Barrie was by all accounts an unusual and lonely hero-worshipper who created a fantasy life for himself and sought the company of children over adults. According to Dudgeon he had a malevolent impact on those he encountered, leaving behind a trail of depression, defeat and death.

Dudgeon holds morally Barrie responsible for the early death and suicides of four of the five "lost boys" he befriended and informally adopted following the deaths of their parents Sylvia (nee du Maurier) & Arthur Llewellyn Davies; the disastrous second expedition of explorer Robert F Scott to the Antarctic and Daphne du Maurier's breakdowns.  His claim is that Barrie used mesmeric techniques to live vicariously through others, dragging them in the process into his shadowy dreamworld.  He suggests that Barrie deliberately wrote a play that led actor Gerald du Maurier to commit incest with his daughter, warping both their lives forevermore. In fact he finds a malevolent Barrie link with nearly everyone Barrie encountered.

It is hard to believe that anyone could be as black as Dudgeon paints Barrie, but his obsessive research does indicate that Barrie's life was far from the innocent charm of a Disneyfied Peter Pan. 

For Starters, a Satanic Svengali

Monday, 19 October 2009

False Prophet by Faye Kellerman - Book 69, 2009

Title: False Prophet by Faye Kellerman
Genre: Detective
Rating: 6.5/10
Plot summery:
Lilah Brecht, the daughter of a famous actress is assaulted and raped while her mother's jewels and some important papers are stolen from her safe. She clings to Decker in a way that makes both Peter and Rina uneasy. As he delves into Lilah's life, Peter discovers a complex and dysfunctional pattern of behaviour between Lilah's mother and her children. Revelation follows revelation until Peter and his partner Marge finally put all of the pieces together.
Comments: A compelling page-turner somewhat ruined by a less-than satisfactory ending.

The Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman - Book 68, 2009

Title: The Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman
Genre: Detective
Rating: 7/10
Plot summary:  Peter Decker is asked to investigate a fifteen year old murder that is now a cold case, that of a very popular guidance counsellor from a Los Angeles school who was found in the trunk of his Mercedes shot in the back of the head execution style. Interest in the case has been raised because someone else has been murdered in the same fashion and found in the trunk of their Mercedes.
Comments: An enjoyable but ultimately forgettable read.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier - Book 67, 2009

Title: The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Science Fiction, historical, literature
Rating: 10/10
Comments: Possibly my favourite Daphne du Marier novel. Dick Young is staying at a holiday home owned by a friend who is also a biochemical researcher. He agrees to take an experimental drug developed by his friend and find it takes his mind - but not his body - 600 years into the past where he witnesses intrigue, adultery and murder. He becomes increasingly obsessed with the characters from the past and resents the time he must spend in the present world. Despite evidence of the dangers to his present day body and relationships, he can't resist taking just one more trip into the past.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: Book 66. 2009

Title: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: suspense, literature
Rating: 10/10
Comments: Daphne du Maurier's most famous book, Rebecca is told through the eyes of the young second wife of Maxim de Winter. Previously an unworldly companion, she is intimidated by Maxim's house, servants, friends and, most of all, his first wife Rebecca, a beautiful, charming, talented woman who had died, apparently in a boating accident.

Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster: book 65, 2009

Title: Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Margaret Forster's well-researched biography comprehensively and sensitively attempts to portray the enigma of author Daphne du Maurier. The daughter of a renowned actor and theatre-manager and grand-daughter of a famous illustrator and novelist, Daphne inherits her forebears artistic talents but not their sociable nature. From an early age she prefers living on her own in a remote corner of Cornwell rather than partying with the debutantes of her day. Her first novel was inspired as much by finances as artistic talent - although her parents would always provide her with an allowance, her own income allowed her to live how and where she wanted. Yet she never defined herself a feminist. A passionate, prickly and troubled soul, Daphne spent her life confused by her bisexual feelings and need for solitude. Nonetheless she married and had a family but sadly continued her forebears tradition of favouring her son over her two daughters. Her talent and generosity, however, were renowned and she contributed almost as much to the preservation of her corner of Cornwell as to English literature.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Daphne du Maurier: A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Lang - Book 64, 2009

Title: Daphne du Maurier: A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Lang
Genre: autobiography
Rating: 7/10
Comments: Not quite a "Mummy Dearest" book, Flavia Lang's recollections of growing up as the child of one of the most famous authors in the world still makes for disturbing reading.  As I read the book, I wondered what her siblings, particularly her older sister, felt about the revelations.  Lang has obviously inherited some of her mother's talent, and it is in some ways an easy and often funny read of a very unusual childhood.  The unwanted second daughter of somewhat remote and aloof parents, she is despised by her pretty sister, who suffered greatly from the isolation of their upbringing, but develops a very close and loving bond with her beloved and clearly favoured younger brother.  Both her parents are extremely successful in their chosen career - her mother is a great novelist, her father one of the youngest and highest ranking military officers, extremely intelligent and charming, but somewhat self-absorbed and withdrawn from family and friends.

Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier - Book 63, 2009

Title: Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: alternative history fiction
Rating: 8/10
Comments: One of Daphne du Maurier's lesser-known books, Rule Britannia envisages an alternate history of England.  In this alternate universe, plunged into economic depression and soaring unemployment, England decides not to join the European Economic Community (forerunner to the European Union).  Its residents wake up one day to find communications cut, an American warship in the harbour, US marines setting up roadblocks and news that Britain was joining forces with the United States to form the USUK.  A group of Cronish villagers becaomes increasingly unhappy with the take-over of their land and start a shadowy rebellion, centreing on an 80-year-old former actress, his brood of adopted troubled boys and her neighbours.  The story is told through the eyes of her 20-year-old grand-daughter.  A fascinating read.

The "Rebecca" Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier - Book 62, 2009

Title: The "Rebecca" Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: autobiography/short-stories
Rating: 7/10
Comments: A somewhat scrappy collection of unpublished writings of Daphne du Maurier including her original plot outline for her most famous novel.  One gets the impression it was put together to capitalise on her fans insatiable desire for more writing from a very successful but reclusive author.

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier - Book 61, 2009

Title: Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: autobiography
Rating: 8.5/10
Description:  (from Amazon)
Both in her novels and her memoirs, Daphne du Maurier revealed an ardent desire to explore her family's history. In Myself When Young, based on diaries she kept between 1920 and 1932, du Maurier probes her own past, beginning with her earliest memories and encompassing the publication of her first book and her marriage. Often painfully honest, she recounts her difficult relationship with her father, her education in Paris, her early love affairs, her antipathy towards London life, and her desperate ambition to succeed as a writer. The resulting self-portrait is of a complex, utterly captivating young woman.

The du Mauriers by Daphne du Maurier: Book 60, 2009

Title: The du Mauriers by Daphne du Maurie
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8.5/10
Comments: The personal autobiography of her own family, written in the form of a novel, provides a spirited saga of family history. From the histories of relatives she never personally knew to her own life, The Du Mauriers makes for a lively and engaging "first-person" read.