Eh, well every writer does have to write the first novel
“High above the clustered houses and the grey harbour waters of Plyn, the loving spirit smiles and is free.”
Although you know I’m not going to tell if that’s from the beginning of the book or the end. This first novel of Du Maurier’s tells the story of four generations of the Coombe family of Plyn, Cornwall beginning in the early 1800’s as young bride Janet Coombe, happy as she is with her children and husband, always longs for the freedom of the sea. Her son Joseph follows his mother’s dreams and sets sail in the merchant ship built by the Coombe family and named after his mother – as is her image the figurehead at the prow of the ship. Joseph eventually marries, but his real love is always the sea and when he can no longer sail he takes his bitterness out on his family, which eventually leads to dire changes in their lives.
Joseph’s son Christopher, realizing he is not cut out for the sailing life, abandons ship in London and ekes out a living there and marries his landlady’s daughter Bertha Parkins. Finally tiring of London life, they return to Plyn in hopes of reuniting with his estranged family and find work in the family’s shipbuilding business – although his uncle Phillip’s grudge against Joseph continues unabated against his son and forces the grief stricken family to return to London. The book culminates with the story of Christopher’s daughter Jennifer as her restless spirit brings her back to Plyn to a chance meeting with a long-lost cousin at the wreck of the Janet Coombe, as well as a show down with her great-uncle Phillip over the damage his hatred has wreaked on the Coombe family.
Throughout the book, the loving spirit of Janet Coombe seems to guide her family through the best and worst times of their lives. As a first book it is certainly good, but far from what readers of her later classics might expect, and a bit slow paced for the most part except the last 50 or so pages – she had me biting my nails for a while there. While I do enjoy family sagas continuing over multiple generations, this one is far from the best either, a bit too short and not as well developed as I like them. I’d recommend this one for fans of Du Maurier wanting to get a look at her first book, but I doubt there’s enough here to hold the interest of a more casual reader. 3/5 stars.