Enchanted

Daphne du Maurier has long been one of my favorite authors–ever since I discovered her short story collection Echoes from the Macabre when I was eleven or twelve; the first story in that collection, “Don’t Look Now,” remains one of my all time favorites; later in my teens I finally read Rebecca, and it has remained one of my favorite novels of all time, getting the periodic reread. One of the things I loved about du Maurier, as I tore through several of her other novels in the wake of Rebecca (The King’s General, The Flight of the Falcon, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchmen’s Creek) was that her novels subverted expectation; her books were marketed, or at least so it seemed to me, as romantic suspense novels and/or historical romances; yet the books were anything but that (whenever someone refers to Rebecca as romantic suspense it’s all I can do not to laugh in their face). The King’s General, for example, based on actual history, does not have a happy ending at all; and even the others aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. About seven or eight years ago I finally read My Cousin Rachel, at the recommendation of a friend who couldn’t believe I’d never read it; once I had, it immediately shot to the top of my list of all-time favorites.

I’ve not finished the du Maurier canon–not because I don’t want to, but primarily because she’s dead and I know at some point, I will run out of du Maurier fiction. I know this is silly; I should, now that sixty is just on the horizon, start finishing the canons of my favorites because it would really suck to die and not be finished with them. (But then we always think we have more time than we actually do, don’t we? It’s sometimes very difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I am, indeed, as old as I am.)

But watching the film of The Other made me think of this particular du Maurier, and I decided to give it a shot.

I left the car by the side of the cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins. It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the route nationale, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the windscreen wiper.

Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me during the past twenty-four hours had intensified. It was inevitable, always, during the last days of holiday; but this time, more than ever before, I was aware of time having passed too swiftly, not because the days had been overfull but because I had achieved nothing. The notes I had written for the lectures I was to give during the coming autumn were scholarly, precise, with dates and facts that I should afterwards dress up in language designed to strike a spark in the dull minds of inattentive students. But even if I held their flagging interest for a brief half hour, I should know, when I had finished, that nothing I had said to them was of any value, that I had only given them images of history brightly coloured–waxwork models, puppet figures strutting through a charade. The real meaning of history would have escaped me, because i had never been close enough to people.

It was all too easy to lose oneself in a past half real, half imaginary, and so be blind to the presesnt. In the cities I knew best, Tours, Blois, Orleans, I lost myself in fantasy, seeing other walls, older streets, the crumbling corners of once glittering facades, and they were ore live to me than any real structure before my eyes, for in their shadows lay security; but in the hard light of reality there was only doubt and apprehension.

There are very few writers who can write so poignantly about depression and dissatisfaction with life; the dark night of the soul, as it were. This is where the hero of The Scapegoat finds himself at the opening of the novel. John, our thirty-eight year old hero, is an Englishman who teaches French history, is fluent in French, and is becoming incredibly dissatisfied with his life. Although his French is flawless and spoken like a native, his fascination and love for France has slowly become disaffecting for him–he feels like he doesn’t belong there and doesn’t quite fit in as he is not actually French; his life is humdrum and routine and lonely; he has no family, few friends, no loves. He has stopped in Le Mans on his way to visit a monastery, and as he walks around the rain-drenched city, he feels his difference very deeply; and then something strange happens: someone mistakes him for someone else, and then very shortly thereafter he runs into his mirror image–and his life is never going to be the same again.

The double, Jean, the Comte de Gue, is also dissatisfied and bored with his own life, and the two men have a few drinks. Eventually they repair to a disreputable looking hostel for another drink–and then our hero, John, passes out, only to wake up more than fourteen hours later to find that “his” driver is there, waiting for him to take him home. He soon realizes all of his things–passport, wallet, ID, car keys–are gone; he has two choices open to him. He can either tell this fantastic story of his to the police and to the driver, who will most likely judge him insane….or go along with the pretense, and slip into the life of his double.

Naturally, since this is a du Maurier tale, he chooses the latter.

In the hands of a lesser writer this contrivance–obviously, without making this decision the rest of the novel cannot happen–would be too glaring, too crazy, too much, really; but du Maurier does such a magnificent job of capturing his own boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction with the dull, plodding life he has made for himself that it actually almost makes sense for him to made this insane decision, for how can he possibly hope to pull off such an imposture? The look-alike story has been done to death over the years, and its overuse on soap operas–generally used when a popular actor has left the show, was killed off, and wants to return; or the double is evil and is taking over the good character’s life (they did this on Dynasty, poorly, with a Krystle look alike)–has made it seem trite and boring and over-used, as well as ridiculous. But Dickens used it for A Tale of Two Cities (even making his dopplegangers English and French, as du Maurier did), and of course, Mary Stewart’s brilliant The Ivy Tree also used the look-alike trope quite ingeniously. (Apparently Josephine Tey did the same with Brat Farrar.) Du Maurier does make this work–ironically, the only creatures who doubt that the Comte is actually the Comte are dogs; but then again, even when he behaves out of character for his look-alike or doesn’t know something he should, no one has any reason to doubt him or believe that a double has replaced their Jean. Would you suspect someone you love and know quite well has been replaced by a twin? There are also some wonderful subplots, regarding the real Comte’s relationships with his family, and while there really wouldn’t be much consequence if he is caught out, a lot of the thrill of the book comes from him not just uncovering the truths behind the fraught relationships with his relatives and the darkness of the past, but also figuring out ways out of situations where he would be found out.

And du Maurier’s writing style itself is the real star. There’s a hypnotic, dream-like quality to her voice; she weaves her words and sentences and paragraphs together softly but beautifully; there’s a melancholy to her style that always hypnotizes her readers into buying into the conceits of her stories and plots.

I greatly enjoyed this read, and am now looking forward to finishing the du Maurier canon.

Like I said, limited time.

The Moment I Knew


Thursday, y’all, and I think I am going to take a vacation day tomorrow to try and help me get caught up on all the things I need to get caught up on. Another three day weekend, following up on the one just past already? To be fair, it kind of needs to actually happen, to be honest. I also have to remember to dedicate myself to making sure all the things I need to get done actually get done.

Which, you know, is the real trick here.

I also kind of need to pull myself together. While I am fully aware that there are certain things about myself I cannot control–depression, the mood swings, etc–it is still enormously frustrating to have to deal with them, try to work through them, get through them while trying to keep going with everything I am juggling these days. Part of it comes, undoubtedly, from my inability to ever get a handle on everything; even when I am making lists and working from them there’s always something I am forgetting when I make the list or something that comes up new after I make the list–and the list is so long and daunting to begin with that the thought of adding something else to it is paralyzing, which drags me back into the endless cycle of plate spinning to “Flight of the Bumblebee” again.

Obviously, the insomnia never helps either, nor does fearing, every night when I go to bed, that I am going to have insomnia again.

We started watching Mythic Quest last night on Apple Plus, and it’s not bad; we watched two episodes and I think it has the potential to become really funny; it stars Rob McIlhenny of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I was really surprised to discover that not only was he the driving force behind that show, but this one as well. We’re also watching We Hunt Together on Showtime–we started the other night, before getting distracted by Ted Lasso, which I absolutely love–and while it’s not bad, it’s not the best British crime show I’ve watched. It’s very unusual in that it features two mixed couples (a Black man and a white woman) on opposing sides of the law–the investigating detectives and the criminal couple killing people–and reflects the similarities of relationships and their dynamics in both; it’s like they are mirror images of each other if it’s a funhouse mirror. It’s an interesting choice, and the acting is superb; the female cop is played by Eve Myles of Torchwood fame, whose work I always enjoy.

During my condom-packing hours yesterday I also returned to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, this time watching Jane Fonda in her Oscar-winning role as Bree Daniels, the call girl, in Klute (what is with women winning Oscars playing prostitutes, anyway?). Klute is a very strange film, and it’s the first of what is called, by film scholars, the Paranoia Trilogy of director Alan J. Pakula (I have recently watched the other two, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men). Klute, to me, is a deeply flawed film, but an interesting one all the same. It’s a crime movie, the title character is a cop who takes a leave of absence to investigate the disappearance of a friend, and yet neither the cop nor the investigation are the lead story of the movie; it’s really a character study of Bree Daniels. Klute, the detective, is played almost completely emotionlessly by Donald Sutherland (obviously a choice made by both director and actor; since this is also the same period that produced his stunning performance in Don’t Look Now), so the emotional heart and center of the movie is Fonda’s performance. I came away from the film not entirely convinced by that performance; there was complexity there and some moments of truly fine acting, but over all–the film hasn’t really aged all that well (the underground world of orgies and call girls and pimps and heroin of Manhattan in the 1970’s it is trying to depict feels very screenwriter-ish to me; a film studio’s thoughts about how that particular subculture would look, walk and talk)–but I can see why she won an Oscar; those scenes where she is able to really inhabit the character are stellar. Klute is a subversion of noir/crime thrillers, really; by focusing on the character study of Bree rather than the story, it becomes less a crime story than the story of the unfortunate aspiring actress/model who turns to tricking to pay the bills and then is trying to leave the life but isn’t entirely able to; not only because she needs the money but because she likes the power of being in control–or at least, the allusion of control hooking brings her.

Imagine Double Indemnity if the focus of the film wasn’t the plan to kill Phyllis’ husband, but rather who she is and why she is the way she is.

The paranoia is also there in that Bree’s phone is tapped, not only by Klute but also by the killer. There’s another part of the film that is a flaw; the motive for the killing and the motive for hiring and paying Klute doesn’t really wash; but’s that probably also the crime writer/editor in me. I had also thought the film was based on a book but was apparently wrong; I could have sworn I remember seeing a paperback novel of Klute on the wire racks at Zayre’s, but of course it could have simply been a novelization of the film.

I did find Don’t Look Now also available to stream somewhere as I idly looked through all my streaming services apps last evening before we started watching Mythic Quest; I definitely want to watch that film again–and it’s not a bad idea for me to delve back into Daphne du Maurier’s short stories again. I may even have to read one of the novels she wrote that I haven’t read yet; there appears to be an adaptation of The Scapegoat (which I’ve not read) available to stream as well. The concept of the book intrigues me–the concept of the look-alike, which is something I’ve always wanted to write about myself. I’ve always had this idea of a bartender in a gay bar being approached by someone who thought he was someone else as a great starting place for a thriller; the problem, of course, being that now DNA would take away any possibility of an imposter passing for someone else. (FUCKING technological improvements.)

This idea came to me–not the least because of The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart–but because when I used to visit New Orleans before moving here, consistently people–locals–would come up to me and start talking to me like I was someone else; eventually I would point out to them that they didn’t actually know ME and they would be very startled. This continued for a year or so after we moved here–I would sometimes get bought drinks by total strangers who thought I was someone else, and now that I think about it, perhaps the reason so many bartenders gave me a drink for free now and then was because they thought I was someone else. But it stopped after living here for a few years–I’d forgotten this used to happen–but they would always tell me I had a double here in New Orleans; one that I never met or saw anywhere. Isn’t that strange? But I always thought it was a good opening or idea for a story–but of course now, as I mentioned before, DNA has ruined the imposter stories forever.

Today is a better day, so here’s hoping it lasts and I can get back on track.