Jamaica Inn: Bleak

Since reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier a summer or two ago and falling in love with her writing style, it has become my mission to read every novel of hers I can. So far, after reading Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn, it is Frenchman’s Creek that is my favorite. Though I don’t condone the adultery implied, the tale is a gorgeous adventure for anyone who longs to escape ordinary life, if just for a bit.

As for Jamaica Inn, the tale starts out bleak and doesn’t improve much from there. Mary Yellan, whose mother has just died, goes to live with her aunt in the moors, though she knows little about the older woman’s life there. Immediately, Mary is swept up into an impossible situation that she may not escape: Her uncle Joss Merlyn is a very dangerous man, bent fully to the life of a criminal life. When she meets his younger, kinder brother, she must decide if she can trust him or not, though everyone tells her the Merlyn family has always been bad. Set in the moors and the coast of Cornwall, Du Maurier placed her tale in a time when murderers and thieves were barely kept in check by the governing authorities. For much of the story, it feels like the entire world is bleak and bad and that Mary will never escape from it.

I also took the time to watch the Acorn 2014 miniseries of Jamaica Inn starring Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) as Mary and Matthew McNulty (The Paradise) as Jem Merlyn. The adaptation was faithfully bleak, and like the book, lost my interest partway through. There just wasn’t enough rays of sunshine or enough plotwise going on to secure my interest. It took awhile for me to finish both the book and the miniseries, and though the tale ends happier than it began, it’s definitely not Du Maurier’s best work. Mary is a treat of a character, a strong woman without the author going overboard about that. The portrayal of the aunt in the miniseries didn’t fit the one in the book. The book described Aunt Patience as childlike and Joanne Whalley seemed neither afraid of her husband, nor long-suffering, thus taking away Mary’s main motivation in the book. But for her aunt, there’s no doubt she would have quite the county forthwith. McNulty was a good Jem, but Sean Harris as his older brother Joss seemed miscast. A larger, brooding, more dark-haired man would have suited better, in my opinion.

The romance in both book and miniseries was adequate, but not swoonworthy. The whole tale suffered from a real lack of adventure despite Mary being thrown in with criminals. Parts of the ending were bizarre and came out of nowhere, and would have made more sense if the mythology hinted at was threaded throughout the book, and if Mary were more religious, which she’s not. Bleakness and despair does not a good story make on its own, and it’s to her credit that as a character Mary survives what the author puts her through. At the end it’s as if she, too, is glad to be done with the story. The miniseries kind of botched the ending, and I think the error was that it was too faithful to the book. Here, a bit more Hollywood drama in both action and takes, would have improved it all around. Jamaica Inn is bleak, and neither book nor miniseries is a must-devour story.

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