My rating: 4 stars
As in many other of Daphne du Maurier’s books, the Cornish coastline comes to life in Frenchman’s Creek. But not only does this historical novel feature a myriad of delightful and evocative descriptions of the locations where the action takes place, it also comprises superb dialogues and many thrilling moments. The main character just falls in love with a French pirate a little too fast for it to feel fully realistic, despite both of them having captivating personalities.
Lady Dona St Columb was married to Harry with whom she had two children, Henrietta and James. Bored of the shallow life she had in the London court, she decided to retreat to Navron, her husband’s estate in Cornwall. When she arrived there with her children, she encountered a dusty house and was surprised to learn that William, the manservant, had been living there alone for a year. Only after being informed that she was coming did he hire other servants.
Soon after her arrival at Navron, she received an unexpected visit from a neighbour who informed her that a pirate, known as the Frenchman, was constantly seizing their goods. She felt some admiration for the pirate, since he had managed to fool them all. Little did she know that she would soon make his acquaintance. While walking around her property, she found the ship of the Frenchman. She tried to leave without being seen, but a man came from behind her and managed to blind her and pin her hands. She was then taken to the ship where she met the infamous pirate, Jean-Benoit Aubéry. Their first interaction is hilarious. He was totally different from what she expected, being indisputably knowledgeable.
The Frenchman realised almost immediately that Dona was trying to escape her old life, much like himself she desired to become someone else. That doesn’t mean that she enjoyed peace and quiet. She had an adventurous soul in addition to being sassy and witty. Her retorts are frequently amusing. Although the relationship between Dona and Jean-Benoit maybe develops a bit too quickly, their conversations are engaging. The dialogues give, in fact, life to the characters, since they are believable and emulate their feelings.
Throughout the book, there are many references to what was expected of women and how they were made to feel bad about wanting something different from their lives. Women were supposed to have children and take care of them. Men were freer to make their own choices. These issues are addressed engagingly, without feeling like a lecture, as they are part of the characters’ tribulations.
“‘Yes’, she said, ‘but you – when you have captured your prize or made your landing – sail away with a sense of achievement, whereas I, in my pitiful little attempt at piracy, was filled with self-hatred, and a feeling of degradation.’”
The descriptions of the area around Navron, that part of the Cornish coastline and the sea are detailed and evocative. The sounds and the colours of the natural world are painstakingly portrayed, making all settings easy to visualise. The words gain life and turn into waves and wind, creating a vivid atmosphere.
“Suddenly the sails caught the breeze and filled, they bellied out in the wind, lovely and white and free, the gulls rose in a mass, screaming above the masts, the setting sun caught the painted ship in a gleam of gold, and silently, stealthily, leaving a long dark ripple behind her, the ship stole in towards the land.”
Although it features various extensive descriptions, Frenchman’s Creek also comprises many moments of thrilling adventure. Particularly near the end, the book oozes tension. Daphne du Maurier certainly knew how to keep readers enthralled.