I have read this over the weekend, as soon as I started it, I knew I would not want to put it down. Justine Picardie has written a literary mystery which revolves around Daphne Du Maurier who is my favourite author. I do not always like fictionalised accounts of real people but it is evident from the very first page that the author has done painstaking research into her subject. Daphne is based on biographical fact and there are three key strands to the story. Obviously Daphne Du Maurier is the main one and we meet her in 1957 as she begins work on her new book on Branwell Bronte and enlists the help of Alex Symington, a distinguished Bronte scholar. The Brontes, especially Branwell provide the second focus and the many mysteries surrounding the family are explored. The third strand of the book is set in the present day and follows an un-named narrator who is embarking on her thesis concerning Daphne Du Maurier and the Brontes.
Justine Picardie weaves her story so well, the basic idea is very simple but it is all the little details and sub-stories she explores that make this book so fantastic. The character of Daphne Du Maurier is perfect, I felt like she had captured this woman so well. Justine Picardie explores Daphne's childhood and relationship with her father Gerald plus the difficult relationship she has with her husband, the great Boy Browning. I also found the connection between Daphne and the Llewelyn Davies brothers (the children that J.M. Barrie adopted and based Peter Pan on) truly fascinating.
I felt that perception of one's self was a key theme of the book. Daphne at many points feels she has to act in a certain way as a best-selling author and wife of a war hero rather than truly being herself. Menabilly, the inspiration for Daphne's book Rebecca and her true home in Cornwall is integral to the story. It is at Menabilly that she feels safe and able to relax more. Alex Symington has many secrets to hide and it is through his letters to Daphne that he is able to portray the man he would like to be and who he thinks he should be. Peter Llewelyn Davies features heavily in the book obviously as a family member but more importantly as a confidant of Daphne's; the reader sees his struggle with the legacy that J.M. Barrie placed on Peter and the pressure that he feels from the public who see him as the boy who never grew up. This theme of self-perception continues with the un-named narrator in the present day; she has entered into an unhappy marriage and initially tries to change who she is to please her new husband. It is a chance meeting with the ex-wife that brings these perceptions and beliefs crashing down and ties the whole story together.
The book also offers insight into Daphne's inspiration for many of her books but especially Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. We almost see Daphne being haunted by the character of Rebecca who she greatly identifies with, especially due to the relationship she has with her husband.
I can only apologise for this rambling review! What I am trying to show is that Justine Picardie explores so many different avenues in such a short book, the way in which she weaves all these strands together is extremely clever and insightful. I think that Daphne is a book that I could read again many times and still take something new from it. Reading this has definitely made me reach for my books on Daphne Du Maurier and the Brontes and I shall certainly be doing some new reading on J.M. Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys. I believe that Justine Picardie has done Daphne Du Maurier proud with this excellent book.