Were you one of the many people who tried to watch the BBC's adaptation of Jamaica Inn over Easter but found yourself struggling to understand half of what the cast were saying? Well, here's the solution; how about cutting out the middle man and going back to the source?
Daphne Du Maurier was the mistress of the beautifully written suspense novel, and it is no surprise that film and television producers come back to her novels again and again to bring them to the screen. Alfred Hitchcock alone also filmed Jamaica Inn, a wonderful version of Rebecca as well as her short story The Birds. Hitchcock's version of Jamaica Inn completely changed the story's ending; star Charles Laughton's ego apparently had to be accommodated!
So, why read the book? Well, it is a classic and has everything you could ask for from a novel, without resorting to cliché. Much of Du Maurier's work has a wonderfully Gothic feel reminding the reader of writers from the nineteenth century, but with enough of a modern sensibility that it isn't simply a pastiche. Set, as many of her works are, in her beloved West Country, Du Maurier uses location to perfection.
Heroine Mary Yellan is forced to seek out the aunt she hasn't seen for years when her mother dies, and so she leaves the village of Helford to move to Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor. When she arrives there, she finds her aunt a shadow of the lively woman she once knew and the inn is dark, forbidding and rarely open. When her imposing uncle Joss does ask her to serve behind the bar, it is to a motley group of men who she wants nothing to do with. It soon becomes clear that these men, and her uncle, are involved in smuggling or perhaps worse.
It is not long before Mary meets Joss' younger brother Jem; a horse thief that Mary cannot help but find attractive, despite her fears that he is involved in Joss' crimes. When she also meets a local vicar, Frances Davey, an albino, she believes that she has found an ally in her investigations into the nefarious goings on in Jamaica Inn and her bullying uncle. What follows ramps up the tension deliciously.
This is a novel that wears its classic status lightly; hugely readable, exciting, and with a touch of (but not too much) romance, it is a Jane Eyre or Kidnapped written by a twentieth century author, and still loved by readers in the twenty first. Read it and fall in love with it yourself.