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DAPHNE


By Justine Picardie

Bloomsbury, 2008 ($25.99)
ISBN-10: 159691341X
ISBN-13: 978-1-59691-341-7

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

While not a true mystery, this book is an intriguing blend of fiction and real life. In the late 1950’s, Daphne du Maurier is dealt a major blow when her husband, a titled war hero, has a breakdown, and she learns he has been carrying on a long-time affair.

She retreats to her estate in Cornwall, where she decides to write a biography of Bramwell Bronte, widely considered to be the black sheep of the talented Bronte family, a failed writer and alcoholic who died young. She begins a correspondence with Mr. Symington, not realizing that far from being a major Bronte scholar with a large collection of works by the family, and access to the archival materials in various collections, he is a thief branded persona non grata at the institutions were he’d worked

In the present day, a young wife in London is depressed when the bloom quickly fades from her marriage to a professor many years her senior. She is fascinated by Du Maurier, whom her husband considers a commercial hack whose works lack literary value. She discovers the link between Du Maurier and Mr. Symington, and, like Daphne, throws herself into research as a way of coping with her failing marriage.

The various strands intertwine and intersect in a complicated pattern. One theme common to all the strands is the effect depression has played in the lives of the characters and their family. There is even a subplot involving Peter Pan and his lost boys. J. M. Barrie is Daphne’s uncle, and her cousins were the models for the boys.

The book is predicted to make a big splash in the literary world, and perhaps it will. It is an interesting character study written in the style of a Du Maurier novel, and might leave the reader wanting to learn more about Ms. Du Maurier's life.

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