When Mary Yellan’s parents die, she must move up north to the moorlands to live with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss at Jamaica Inn. When she gets there, though, she finds that her aunt is no longer the happy person Mary knew growing up. Aunt Patience is cowering and sniveling, her husband towering over her as a drunken bully. But it isn’t just Uncle Joss’s violence that has beaten Aunt Patience down. There are secrets at Jamaica Inn, and Mary is determined to find them out.
Supposedly, Jamaica Inn is a retelling of Wuthering Heights, the same way Rebecca is meant to be a retelling of Jane Eyre. Considering I really disliked Wuthering Heights, I went into this book with trepidation, and I did see a lot of similarities, especially in landscape and in Joss’s character. The plot was very different, though, and involved an interesting set of characters, including a murderous peddler, a horse-thief, and an Albino pastor.
I’m in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I definitely liked Rebecca far more than Jamaica Inn. I felt it was better paced and had a better atmosphere, or perhaps, to be more accurate, I preferred the atmosphere of Rebecca to the wild moors of this book. I’ve never been fond of reading about the moors. They sound dull and tedious to me (probably because I’ve never been there). So the setting, so integral to this book, was very monotonous for me.
The characters were also extremely predictable. I could tell from the first third of the book exactly how it was going to end, who would end up being the bad guys and the good guys. Perhaps that’s just because I’m reading it decades after the fact, with modern sensibilities. I’ll grant the book that. And because of that, I tried not to let that predictability interfere with my reading.
I wavered back and forth, sometimes feeling bored, sometimes not wanting to put the book down. Despite my normal sensibilities, I really liked the horse thief character (Joss’s brother, Jem) and he had me laughing quite a few times. I wanted to see more of him than we were allowed to see. I also really liked Mary, who had far more spunk than anyone in Wuthering Heights (excepting Cathy, and she hardly counts because her spunk was more like CRAZY than ATTITUDE). Even Joss, in his violence and bullying, was a well-rounded, three-dimensional character, which is hard to pull off. du Maurier did very well at that.
But. But. In the end, I just couldn’t fully love this book. Something about the combination of the setting with the use of paganism and the really, really awful ending (spoiler: Really? Mary’s going to give up her strength and will and suddenly go gallivanting off with Jem??) made it so I can only really give this a middle of the road sort of review. There were periods, usually brief, where I wanted to keep reading, but for the most part, I had no trouble setting this book down for days at a time without picking it back up, even in the middle of a paragraph. It just wasn’t all that compelling.
I don’t want to sound like I completely disliked it. The end left a bad taste in my mouth, but there were good points. Over all, I remain mixed in feeling. I was hoping for another book like Rebecca, but unfortunately this one just didn’t live up to those hopes. Perhaps I’ll have better luck with my next du Maurier.
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