Daphne DuMaurier’s Jamaica Inn had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time before I finally picked it up late last year, and as usual I don’t know why I waited so long to get around to reading it. I think I ended up reading it this time because I recorded the movie off Turner Classic Movies and wanted to read the book first.
Jamaica Inn follows Mary Yellan, a very serious, stoic girl whose mother just died to the hotel of the title, where her Aunt Patience lives.
There is a real ‘Jamaica Inn’ on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. It still exists, people still go, and it inspired DuMaurier’s novel, however, the book does mention that the fate of the inn in real life and in the book are not the same and the novel is merely something DuMaurier made up. Apparently it’s a touristy spot these days, but in the novel it’s old and nearly abandoned.
So Mary is dropped off in the middle of the night at a dark, cold inn that “honest people” now avoid. In fact, if I remember correctly, she wasn’t even dropped off at the inn, because the carriage driver wouldn’t get close enough. She was dropped off a few miles away, across a moor, and probably wouldn’t have made it to the inn at all without the help of a passing vicar.
Aunt Patience, who Mary remembers from her childhood as lively and bright, is now cowering and meek, married to Joss Merlyn, the inn’s proprietor, as well as a drunk and local bully.
Mary and her uncle clash routinely, and Mary can’t stand her uncle, but is trapped in Jamaica Inn because Mary can’t bear to ignore her mother’s last wish – which was to go live with and care for her Aunt Patience. Mary also figures out that something is off – the inn never has any guests and the bar/restaurant portion rarely has visitors.
As with DuMaurier’s other novels, this story is full of rich language that creates a dark, brooding atmosphere. Mary is a spunky heroine, if not a little grating. Yes, we get it, Mary has little sense of humor and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty and is pure of heart and spirit. WE GET IT. The supporting characters are more interesting, with my favorite of them being the vicar. There is a pretty good mystery involved, and some twists you don’t see coming until the very last moment, which I always appreciate. I’ve solved several plots way before the end and it always makes the story less enjoyable.
While Jamaica Inn is classified as a book of “romantic suspense,” I wouldn’t label it as such. It’s a suspenseful novel, certainly a mystery novel, but there isn’t that much that’s typically “romantic” about it. Mary does meet a man named Jem, and his identity and his job are parts of the mystery, but they’re not the main parts, and not even the most interesting parts.
I would recommend the book as a pretty good read, with this added tip: when you come across a word you don’t know because it’s not the 1800s anymore, look it up. The story will make way more sense. Jamaica Inn isn’t as good as Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel, but it’s enjoyable anyway and fairly short. I think the whole thing was 300 pages, tops. Probably more like 270.
Finally, as I previously mentioned, there is a film version of this novel that was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton. The movie was terrible. Supposedly it was hijacked by Laughton who would revise the script to make his role better or more appealing to the audience and what not. For whatever the reason, the film was really bad. And I’m a huge Hitchcock fan, so it’s not like me to dump on one of his films. He killed it adapting Rebecca, and I’ve really come to love and appreciate The Birds. But the screen adaptation of Jamaica Inn? It was bad. It was just bad. It didn’t follow the novel, it eliminated the most interesting character, it featured Charles Laughton as the world’s most obnoxious squire.
In this case, if deciding between the two, just go with the novel.