Thursday, July 2, 2020

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier by Tatiana de Rosnay

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier
 by Tatiana De Rosnay
Published April 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As an eleven-year-old de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurier’s fiction. 

Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old, a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty-something newlywed, and finally a cantankerous old lady. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay’s works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer.

My Thoughts:
I love Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca; it's one of the few books I've reread. But, strangely, I've never read any of her other books, despite having a couple of them on my bookshelves. In fact, I had no idea how prolific du Maurier had been nor how versatile she had been, writing everything from her own autobiography and biographies to shocking short stories (she penned The Birds, on which the Alfred Hitchcock movie is based) and novels of all sorts. Rebecca is, of course, her most famous, the book that made her an international sensation. But it was also the book that she grew to regret writing. Her notoriety impinged on her wish for privacy and set a standard she was never able to reach again, despite having great success. 

If you've been here long, you'll have notice that when I reference Kirkus Reviews, it's generally because they tend to be so harsh on books and I rarely agree with them. This book is the except. To my opinion for their review, not their opinion of the book. I can't speak to how well researched this book is - certainly De Rosnay has amassed a lot of information about du Maurier and her life and I did learn a tremendous amount. But according to Kirkus Reviews, she hasn't broken any new ground, just reframed the information that was already available. De Rosnay writes the book in present tense, in an effort, she says, to make the book feel more intimate. But for me (and Kirkus Reviews), it didn't work. I found it really disconcerting. It also felt like De Rosnay wanted to cram in every detail she found about Du Maurier, often inserting details or paragraphs that added nothing to the topic at hand. For example, in Du Maurier's early life, she devotedly wrote in her journal and much of the early part of the book felt very much like De Rosnay was taking pieces straight from the journals rather than giving readers a full picture. 

Du Maurier did live a fascinating live and was surrounded by so many well-known people. The brothers Llewlyn Davies, the inspiration for J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, were her cousins and Barrie, himself, was an intimate of the family through both the theater (Du Maurier's father was a famous actor) and his role as guardian of the Llewelyn Davies brothers after their parents' deaths. Du Maurier's husband worked directly with both Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth and both visited Du Maurier's home. Du Maurier traveled extensively, most often to her beloved France which called to her because of her connection with the country through her ancestors. De Rosnay does best when she is describing Du Maurier's trips to France; other destinations are little more than a postcard home. And we are reminded, again and again, that Du Maurier preferred wearing slacks and a cardigan to dresses. Perhaps that was done as a reminder (although there were plenty of other, better, reminders) of the boy that Du Maurier felt lived inside her. 

To her credit, De Rosnay doesn't shy aware from showing Du Maurier's warts, including Du Maurier's failure as a mother to her daughters for much of their formative years and her selfishness in refusing to live with her husband most of their marriage as his career kept him away from the places she wanted to be.  Du Maurier was certainly a woman of passions. When she wrote, her passion for writing took precedence over all else and when she loved, she could think of little else. In the end, she died as much from an inability to find the muse any longer as she did from age or the depression that plagued her family. 

To be fair to the book, Kirkus Reviews and I seem to be in the minority; there are plenty of positive reviews for this book. Du Maurier's daughter, in fact, seems to feel De Rosnay has captured her mother. So take my thoughts for what their worth and, if you're interested in this one, look at other reviews before you write this one off. 




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