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Daphne: A Novel Hardcover – August 5, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Former BritishVogue editor Picardie (My Mother's Wedding Dress) gives us a fictional life of Rebecca novelist Daphne du Maurier (1907–1989) that founders in obsession. In the late 1950s, du Maurier, determined to establish herself as a serious writer, researched and wrote a biography of Branwell Brontë, the often-overlooked real-life brother of sisters Emily and Charlotte. Flash forward to the present, in which a nameless graduate student seeks out lost secrets about the relationship between du Maurier and John Alexander Symington, the Brontë expert and curator to whom du Maurier dedicated her eventual Brontë book. Picardie's novel quickly becomes a tangle of redundancies, as the student, in one plot line, grows increasingly obsessed with du Maurier and loses touch with reality. Meanwhile, in another thread, du Maurier and Symington both flirt with madness in their separate Branwell quests. Du Maurier's fictional characters, especially Rebecca, haunt the story unproductively, as do the Brontës, Brontë protagonists, and Barrie's Peter Pan and the Lost Boys (who were inspired by du Maurier's cousins). Picardie does best with Symington, whose career ended in scandal: she portrays his dissolution coldly, letting observations rip in a way she never quite manages with the fictive Daphne. (Aug.)
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Literary allusions, references, and mysteries pile up in this book-lover’s dream of a novel inside a biography, inside a novel, inside a biography. Three, or maybe more, stories intersect and inform each other. The first is a biography of writer Daphne du Maurier in the 1950s as she struggles with family ghosts and writing a biography of Branwell Brontë, the long-neglected brother of the Bronte sisters. Years later, a nameless, orphaned graduate student, clearly meant to echo the narrator of du Maurier’s Rebecca, follows du Maurier’s work, to the distaste of the student’s older husband and the fascination of his beautiful ex-wife. Also in the middle of this is the du Maurier family’s relationship with J. M. Barrie and the Lleweyn Davies family of Peter Pan fame, as well as a possible literary forgery involving the Brontës. Exposition of all the relevant novel plots and literary relations slows down the beginning of the book. However, like a du Maurier novel, mystery and gothic plotting make the remainder of the novel a page-turner. A novel for anyone who loves novels. --Marta Segal Block
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The novel is based on some actual events in du Maurier's life as she worked on her Branwell Bronte biography, and the contemporary story has obvious parallels to Rebecca, with a few echoes to du Maurier's own life mixed in. The book also reminds me a little of "Possession" by AS Byatt with the search for literary clues. While I found it interesting and an obvious homage, I think I would have enjoyed a biography of du Maurier more, and reading right after "Rebecca" made it suffer in comparison.