Category Archives: romance

Jamaica Inn

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.

Last Words From Montmartre

I saw Qiu Miaojin’s Last Words From Montmartre at the Strand Bookstore down in the city on one of their tables. I think it was pre-owned because it was super cheap ($6-ish) and I bought it because the back read like it was going to be an exciting psychological thriller.

This book also satisfied a requirement on the list I lost last year, but I really thought it was going to be super exciting from the blurb on the back cover:

When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.

The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.

It wasn’t sublime. It wasn’t thrilling. It was 176 pages of a woman feeling sorry for herself and being pathetic. I hated it.

I was excited about all aspects of it – a genre and gender bending queer romantic thriller taking place in far away, exotic cities? Am I tall enough to get on the ride? Sign me up.

And when I got off the ride, I got the distinct impression that I was misled on purpose. I found the unnamed narrator (another aspect of the story I liked, as it was reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, another romantic thriller with an unnamed narrator) whiny, self-indulgent, and as I said earlier, pathetic.

Maybe it’s because of who I am personally, but I have never liked self-pitying wallowers. I understand being depressed after a passionate relationship ends. Eventually, though, pull it together and get over it. Go on living. I always respected myself too much to let my relationship to a significant other define me. I never gave him that kind of power and I have trouble respecting women who do give their significant others, male of female, that kind of power. The relationship in the story, from what I remember now, wasn’t an abusive relationship of any kind, so it’s not that kind of inequality that would trigger someone being unable to leave or be truly damaged by abusive behavior. It was just some woman who couldn’t/wouldn’t get over a breakup.

I had no problem with the translation. Ari Larissa Heinrich did a great job. I can’t comment on the original language, but I thought it was beautifully written and therefore must have been beautifully translated.

My distinct reaction of dislike may be a defect of me personally because a lot of people love this book and comment endlessly on the genius of the author. She has other projects people rave about (though I have no inclination to discover them). Qiu Miaojin committed suicide, which, although I loathe admitting it, darkly fascinates me and is one of the reasons I thought this book would be good. It can be read as her suicide note? What does that mean? How interesting! Let’s find out.

I FOUND OUT. I HATED IT. I WAS GLAD THE NARRATOR WAS SETTING OFF TO KILL HERSELF.

Obviously I feel bad about the author because she was a real person, but the narrator? Nah.

This isn’t the first “great book” where my reaction was one of intense dislike to what I considered to be a whiny, pathetic narrator. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley really rubbed me the wrong way too, and I was only a 16 year old high school sophomore when I read that. But it was the same kind of thing. The narrator went on ENDLESSLY, wallowing in self-indulgent nonsense and oooooh poor him.

I can’t remember for sure 13 years later but I think that narrator commits suicide at the end too and I think my reaction was the same. “Good riddance.”

I would be more specific and look up more details of this book for this post, but I gave it to a friend and she never gave it back, which was fine. I haven’t asked for it back. I don’t want it back. It was $6ish, 176 pages, and 3 or 4 hours I’ll never get back.

It was disappointing enough without remembering all the specific details.

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