Tuesday, February 8, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Scapegoat By Daphne du Maurier

This is the story of what happens when two men who happen to look and sound alike trade places. One is unhappy with his life primarily due to loneliness and is seriously considering joining a monastery. The other is unhappy because he is smothered from caring for others. The situations of the men made the lonely one depressed while causing the other to be bitter and to strike back at those he loved.

British writer Daphne du Maurier, who lived from 1907 to 1989, wrote novels, short stories, plays, biographies, as well as non-fiction books and articles. Scapegoat was published in 1957, and not one I would have read if it hadn't been a selection made by the book club I belong to. Not because it didn't sound interesting, but because there are many newer books I haven't read. However, I'm glad I read it. In fact, I think I'll read some of her other books. Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel, to name a couple.

The premise seems improbable at first glance, but not so far out that it bothered me while reading the book. Many times I've spotted a face in the crowd, especially while traveling, of someone I recognize only to find it is a stranger. On at least two occasions the resemblance was so strong I considered asking the person to let me take a photo to show their so-called twin. I didn't, but only due to my shyness.

Scapegoat is well crafted and I fear I can't tell you much about it without spoiling it for you. As I read, I thought of many enjoyable paths the story could take and I cheerfully waited to see which one the author decided on.

John, a 38-year-old Englishman, is a historian who studies in France and teaches in England. He is fluent in the language and customs. His parents have died and he has no family. He is depressed and lonely, and so unhappy with his life in general, he is considering dropping out. The story begins in Le Mans, and John has his map marked to show how to get to a nearby monastery.

While walking on the street, he is mistaken for someone else. Soon he runs into Jean de Gué and learns they look and sound alike. They drink and talk about their lives. Before the evening is up, they end up in an inn where Jean gets John drunk and takes off with his clothes, car and identity. John is awaken the next day by Jean's chauffer who is there to take him home.

At first John thinks it is a joke. Then he gets mad. Finally, he decides Jean did it for him, John, so that he could experience a better life. John isn't sure what to do, but he goes with the chauffer to Jean's home where he learns Jean had lived with his wife, Françoise, his brother, Paul, Paul's wife, René, his sister, Blanche, his mother, and his daughter, Marie-Noel. No one notices John is not Jean. At one point John tells some of the family who he is, but they ignore him. Only the dogs know the truth.

After dark, John decides to leave, but goes back to keep Jean's daughter from jumping out window. With time, John realizes Jean is more of a failure than he is. The next day he decides to stay because it is amusing. Later, he feels shame after getting to know the people in Jean's life. Although John knows nothing about the business Jean managed, and little about the family members John makes several changes that affect the lives of the family members in a positive way.

There are more ups and downs in this fast-paced story, but that's all I want to say so that you'll enjoy this book as much as I did.

1 comment:

  1. E-mail from Peg:

    I thought I had read all of Du Maurier's books, but this doesn't sound familiar. Yes, she is a great writer, and Rebecca is a true classic of the gothic novel - with lots of imitators. I'll have to look for the Scapegoat.