After reading and falling in love with Rebecca when I was a teenager, I started but failed to finish My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn. I gave up on them because they weren't like Rebecca. I then gave up on du Maurier, having decided that she had only written one good novel. That was a long time ago. I recently listened to an audiobook of Rebecca as a buddy read with my friend Jemidar. We both liked the book just as much as we had when we first read it. That experience prompted a buddy read of this novel.
Frenchman's Creek has a simple plot and a lineal structure. The heroine, Dona St Columb, a wealthy young married woman in Restoration England, is bored and dissatisfied with her marriage and with London life. She seeks refuge on the family's Cornwall estate and becomes involved with a dashing French pirate who has been stealing from the local gentry. They fall in love and share adventures. So on its surface, the book is a straightforward swashbuckling historical romance.
However, the novel can also be read in another way; that is, as a tale about the desire to escape which strikes almost every woman who has ever felt stifled by family ties and societal expetations. In this way, the novel works as an extended daydream, in which the reader can explore, through the heroine, what a completely different life might look like. The novel deals with the choices to be made between freedom and duty and between self and others.
The dreamlike quality of the book is emphasised by the use of language. Du Maurier's evocation of Cornwall and her description of the natural environment - the bird life, the sea, the sky, the weather - are breathtaking. While the novel is set during the Restoration, du Maurier makes no attempt to use period language or other devices to recreate the time period. The lack of such detail is not a problem. If anything, it makes the action simultaneously more vivid and more like a fantasy. I wondered whether du Maurier chose to set the novel during the Restoration for no other reason than that it gave her the possibility of introducing pirates into the story.
Frenchman's Creek has its flaws. Even given that it is not supposed to be realistic, there are some plot points - for example, the ease with which Dona persuades her husband to leave with the children which stretch credulity. Moreover, the resolution - even though it felt right within the context of the novel - could have been somewhat better explained.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the novel much more than I thought I would. It will not appeal to everyone, but I am very glad to have spent a few days in its world. What a pleasure it has been to realise that du Maurier did in fact write other books worth reading!