Sunday, 23 September 2012

Penguin no. 2427: I'll Never Be Young Again
by Daphne du Maurier

     'You'd like me to have comfortable, steady principles, and never feel hot over anything, and just take life as it comes instead of rushing to meet it half way... You won't be easy till I'm laid up in a bathchair, with a morning paper for an excitement. Well, you'll be disappointed, Jake, I shan't live for that to happen to me.'
     'What makes you think so?'
     'I have a sort of hunch that I'll have a terrific time and then die-'
     'Oh! we all think that,' he said...'You're a boy, Dick, and all your thoughts are boy's thoughts. Believe me, you'll wake up one day and find yourself a successful stockbroker with a big belly, unable to go without your morning cup of tea.'
     'And not minding?'
     'And most especially not minding,' he laughed.

The story begins with Dick deciding that life is too much for him. If his story can be believed, he has had an unhappy childhood as the only child of aloof parents, but it is not this which has brought him to his crisis, as much as his abhorrence at the memory of his own behaviour. Before running away to London at the age of 21, he had felt a momentary longing for attention, choosing to shock his uninterested father by thrusting some secretly written pornographic poems before him. And as Dick's feelings about sex have only two possible states, alternating between the extremes of desire and disgust, this is now a recollection with which he cannot live. He stands on a London bridge intending to end his life by falling into the river below.

He contemplates this curtailed future as he contemplates all new experiences: by composing a picture in his mind, in this case of his dead and bloated body retrieved by strangers, with the evening paper he now reads floating unremarked on the surface on the river. He invariably views potential experiences, and even death, romantically, a tendency which seems a marker of his immaturity; he thinks he knows and understands much more than he does.

His life is saved by a tap upon his shoulder, and the simple suggestion that his youth should not be cast aside so readily. The saviour is Jake, a man only recently released from prison and a few years older than Dick, but still able to recall the restlessness and passion of his own youth. Jake takes upon himself the burden of Dick's care, and they head off together in search of adventure and excitement, working their way to Oslo and then travelling up through the mountains and fjords of Norway. Jake seems a substitute father, and the mentor Dick desperately needs, as he is calm and undemanding, and reliable and knowing. And yet as much as Dick reveres and relies on Jake, he never really listens to him. Like many young men he thinks he knows it all already, and Jake's advice and example go unheeded. Dick has to learn all his lessons for himself.

And then suddenly Jake is gone, written out of the story, and Dick continues on his journey alone, heading for Paris and experiencing depression, failure, love, ambition, and rejection. He spends the first part of the book in the company of the older Jake, and the second part in the company of the younger Hesta. And it seems as though some comparison is being drawn between these two possible partnerships: the companionship between men, against the relationship between a man and a woman; the first presented as something noble, and the second as something sordid. Jake only finds contentment and stability when he is living what seems to be a celibate or at least an unattached life, with his longing for women diminished.

It was difficult to feel any sympathy for Dick, though he certainly had plenty for himself. He weights his own concerns very heavily; and other people's not at all. And he is so like a child, unable to even see how unfairly he is behaving with his thoughts so closely focused on himself. To spend an entire book looking at the world from his perspective didn't make for enjoyable reading.

And there seemed very few compensations for persisting with the book. Whatever I expected from my first Daphne du Maurier novel, it was not these long dull, descriptive passages, and a story twice as long as it needed to be. She wrote it in just two months when she was only 24, and that may explain why it seems so unconvincing. Young men can be thoughtless and over-confidant and conflicted about sex, but Dick seems too immature, Jake too calm and sensible, and their shared discomfort at female sexuality too enduring.

Despite my criticisms of this book, I was delighted to be able to add it to the collection, and cross it off the list of still-sought Penguins, along with three others. They arrived recently in the mail from the UK, accompanied by a lovely Puffin postcard, courtesy of Jo from The Book Jotter who very kindly thought of me when her mother was culling some of her books. Three (including this one) have rather lovely covers by Renato Fratini.

And I have a question that someone in the UK may be able to answer. It is an unusual week when a book I read two years ago receives more views than the one most recently discussed, but for some reason, hundreds of people living in the UK have typed 'Clochemerle' into Google or Goodreads over the past week, and ended up at my blog. I've spent the week speculating on where this sudden interest in a semi-forgotten 1930s French novel can have come from. Was the TV series perhaps aired on UK TV? Or the book mentioned in The Guardian? Or has Clochemerle found its way onto the UK school curriculum? It has all been rather intriguing.


  1. Very interesting about Clochemerle. Absolutely LOVE the covers of these. Unusual to see such brilliant coloured Penguin covers though I notice a couple I have are higher numbers and see that the one you reviewed this week is also. Wonder how many there were.

    1. The interest in Clochemerle began very suddenly on Sept 15th, and it is almost exclusively from the UK, but from a whole range of cities. And it still continues, although it is gradually decreasing.

      There are a few earlier Renato Fratini covers in the old series, but without the bright colouring, although they are Penguins I don't have yet. They released a number of Daphne du Maurier's titles with numbers around 1720, and I think some of those were later reissued in editions with these brighter covers.

  2. Those really are fantastic covers! Sorry to hear this wasn't a great Du Maurier :( The only thing I've read by her is Rebecca and THAT book is one of my all time favorite books. It's just an amazingly gothic and atmospheric read!

    1. Although I've never read it, I was aware of this widespread fondness for Rebecca, and so it was very surprising to find that this earlier book was so dull. It was the title that caught my eye here, but clearly I should have opted for one of her other books.

  3. This was your FIRST Daphne du Maurier? oh no no. I was very excited to hear you were reading this but now I think it sounds a little whiney for my liking. Please don't let this put you off her though. Apart from Rebecca, which is obviously an all time classic, she can write so beautifully. A good place to start may be her short stories (Don't look now, etc) or The Scapegoat, which I LOVED.



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