Jamaica Inn has all the ingredients you’d expect from a good gothic novel: a gloomy location, a dark mystery, a priest, a few murders, and a rugged love interest who seems to be bad news. Excellent.
Daphne du Maurier is a very gifted writer, but my favourite thing about her books is always the setting. As our heroine Mary Yellan battles it out with her abusive uncle and discovers what his secret side business entails, you get swept up in the descriptions of the moors and the unforgiving rain. It’s like a chill creeps into your shoes and settles in your bones, making you shiver. Du Maurier has a true gift for choosing just the right details to set a scene and creating a vivid setting that the reader can feel (like the rhododendrons in Rebecca). The whistling of the wind, the smell of rotten wood, the caked mud on Mary’s boots… I breathed it all in and found myself wanting to put on another jumper. Cornwall has never been more dreary.
I thoroughly enjoyed Jamaica Inn and would recommend it to any lover of gothic literature, especially fans of Wuthering Heights. It is an eerie and atmospheric work with some great twists and turns in the plot and an ambiguous ending. How you end up interpreting the final paragraphs and Mary’s future says a lot about where you fall on the optimist/pessimist spectrum, so put on the kettle, wrap yourself up in a warm blanket, and see where you stand.