Sarah Turvey: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

What better way to kick off the new year than with a Book of the Month chosen by PRG’s very own Sarah Turvey.

I first read Daphne du Maurier when I was 12 or 13. I was well versed in the romantic ways of Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart but this was something different. Love stories yes, but with a sense of place that swept away my bedroom, and characters who seemed to loom out of the landscape in ways that both thrilled and troubled me. Through du Maurier I began to understand what being ‘lost in a book’ might mean.

Fifty years later I re-read Jamaica Inn for a PRG reading group in a men’s prison. It was suggested by a member who’d picked it up from a stand in the library. ‘Let’s try something from a woman’s point of view’, he said, ‘we don’t get much of that in here’.

I was nervous about what they – and I – would make of it. But I needn’t have worried, we were all completely gripped. Or almost: ‘I was watching football but reading it at the same time. That’s how good it was.’

‘You could really feel that squelchy bog land on the moor.’

I thought I’d have to set myself reading targets but I was hooked straightaway.’

Like all the best books, it gave us the chance to imagine and inhabit a life very different from our own: ‘I loved the way the whole book zoned in on Mary’s feelings.’ The strong sense of connection with her even led to worry about her future with the dashing but dangerous Jem: ‘What’s she going to think when she wakes up and sees him next to her in the morning?’

One of the great joys of books is the way they connect us with each other. Two members on the same wing had compared notes as they read. James* finished first but was careful not to give anything away. ‘When Richard* said he thought there was something dodgy about Rev Davey, I just had to smile and tell him to keep reading.’ Richard was still reeling when he arrived at the meeting: ‘Who can you trust if you can’t trust a vicar?’

*names have been changed

Thank you to Sarah for choosing this title. To see our previous Books of the Month, click here. 


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