The Woman Without A Name

Beware, Penelope!

The mysterious madwoman had come to warn her against Sir Jeffrey Wilstoun, master of Holyoak – the arrogantly handsome young man who had brought her to the big, gloomy house to tutor his two strangely precocious little sisters.

If the warning were to be believed, Penelope was employed by a man who would sooner bury a secret – and the one who discovered it – than allow it to be revealed…

Written by Laurence M. Janifer. First Signet printing August 1966.

Ho hum, I really wanted to love this one (gorgeous cover and all) but if I’m honest, Women Without a Name was as fatally flawed as any tragic gothic anti-hero, and not half as much fun to curl up in bed with.

Where to begin? There’s a governess (Penelope) and some children and an isolated house somewhere in the middle of God knows where. So far so good. Then our heroine stumbles upon the Big Scary Mystery – someone is in the attic! But not the mad woman, no, she’s wandering about in the woods, wearing a multicoloured shawl (therefore demonstrating she is hopelessly insane) mumbling about how evil it all is.

Enter our Lord of the Manor, Jeffrey, who takes a mere 50 pages to fall helplessly in love and propose to Penelope. Unfortunately for us, it takes her twice as long to actually go look in the attic to find out what all the fuss is about. Turns out there’s an evil twin (and I usually LOVE evil twins) which somehow proves our hero is not evil and therefore marriageable material. Penelope faints, then wakes up, then decides she wants to get married too. And so we all live happily ever after. Sigh.

I googled the title of this book half expecting to find not very much at all – but it transpires Laurence M. Janifer is a well known SF writer with a career spanning over 50 years. (More information on the author and some reviews can be found HERE.) Hopefully The Woman Without a Name is Laurence M. Janifer’s only gothic. To be fair the writing is ok, it’s just that he took every cliché he could think of before jumbling them all together without really giving much thought to the development or pacing of the story. At 26,000 words it’s an easy afternoon’s reading – but not necessarily an enjoyable one. Two out of five stars.

*STOP PRESS* For some extra information, check out the comments sent in by Ruben below. The artwork is by George Ziel. Ruben has also posted his collection of paperback art on the web, which can be drooled over HERE.

Ruben, thank you for the info and you have some gorgeous artwork (almost!) worth selling my soul for!

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The Ledge

Young Catherine Beauchamp had defied her father and ignored all warnings when she took the job at High View. There were whispers about the brilliant ex-senator who lived at the remote mountain estate; ugly rumors about his strange behaviour and the mysterious death of his first wife. But Catherine did not want to hear them. She too had secrets in her past.

Yet from the moment she entered the decaying mansion she was filled with foreboding. With each passing day the ledge from which the senator’s wife had plunged grew more ominous. And sudenly she realized she had trespassed on a nightmare…

… JOURNEY TO TERROR.

Written by Gertrude Schweitzer. First Dell printing January 1973.

I picked this one up at a local used bookshop a couple of weeks ago and though it’s a bit tattered and torn, I just love the cover. There might not be an obligatory light shining from the mansion’s top window, but the colours are gorgeous and the title font has a real seventies look to it.

The Ledge opens with our heroine, the bereaved and vulnerable Catherine Beauchamp, winding her way to a new job as secretary for ex-senator Amos Kent. Early on we learn Catherine has recently recovered from a serious mental breakdown; this job is the start of her new life and an important step towards regaining her sense of self worth and confidence.  

But from the offset the omens aren’t good. Nearing Garretston, the town where the senator lives,  she runs over a squirrel and is forced to pull over, shaking like a leaf, waiting until the ‘old horror loosened its claws.’ And the welcome when she finally arrives at her new home isn’t much better – Amos Kent is a guarded, embittered man suspected of killing his last wife. His West Indian housekeeper, Mrs Willymore or Willy for short, has secrets of her own and looks after her boss with a strange kind of quiet over-possessiveness. And she may or may not be drugging Catherine’s drinks and rifling through her drawers at night, but if she is, then why?

1973 Hardcover

Story-wise I really wasn’t expecting much more than your average ‘guess who wants you dead for your money, honey’ kind of gothic but I must say The Ledge is turning out to be a rather engrossing read. There aren’t any ghosts in this house but plenty of disturbing dreams and damaged psyches, all colliding to create a taut, suspenseful read. Here’s a taster from the inside cover:

“Something rustled. There was the sound of breathing close by. Catherine held her own breath. The sound of breathing continued. This time there was no mistaking it. Someone was in her room.

She sat up, her heart pounding, and called out, “Who’s there?” But she saw who it was before the words were out.

Mrs. Willymore stood beside the bed in her peignoir. Silent. Then slowly she moved a cloth toward Catherine’s face. Catherine shrank back.

“Don’t be frightened.” The housekeeper whispered.

Like the sinister Mrs Willymore, this book whispers rather than screams and if understated, well written psychological thrillers are your thing, I would definitely recommend it. Four out of five stars.

There is a signature to the bottom left of the cover but unfortunately I can’t make head nor tale of it. Any ideas?

Rebecca

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

One of the most appealing heroines in all of fiction weaves a special magic to enthral every reader.

Known to millions through the outstandingly successful versions on stage and screen, the characters in this timeless romance become hauntingly real  – to be treasured in the memory.

Brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, Daphne du Maurier’s unforgettable tale of love and suspense is a storytelling triumph that will be read and re-read.

Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published 1938 by Victor Gollancz Ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.

Daphne  du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite all-time gothics and since there’s a new anthology of her stories due out this week (more on that later) and the Daphne du Maurier Festival taking place later this month, I thought it was  about time I posted a review of what must be her most remembered book, Rebecca

With one of the best known opening lines in literary history and widely believed to be the book that kick-started the revival for Gothic Romance in the 20th Century, Rebecca is Daphne du Maurier’s fifth novel and for many considered to be the quintessential modern Gothic.

Told in flashback, this is story of an unnamed women’s struggle as she adjusts to a new life married to the wealthy owner of a West Country estate and her fight to come out from under the shadow cast by her husband’s first wife Rebecca.

Rebecca was everything the new Mrs de Winter is not – beautiful, charming, self confident and dead. She drowned in a boating accident in the bay, and it was her husband Maxim de Winter who identified the body when it was supposedly washed up from the sea a couple of months later. 

1992 Arrow Edition

Feeling inadequate and unfamiliar with her grand new lifestyle, the new Mrs de Winter finds it very difficult to adjust, becoming less and less confident with each new faux pas, failing to live up to the standard she thinks is expected of her. And then there is Mrs Danvers – the sly, secretive, skull-faced housekeeper who loved Rebecca more than anyone and who just can’t hide her dislike for her new mistress.

The best gothic romances brim with unspoken secrets and emotions. This book is full of such things and more, as the withered claw of Rebecca’s unburied past  reaches out from its watery grave, maintaining its strange stranglehold over the living occupants of Manderley.

Dare I say it however, Rebecca is not my favourite gothic romance – it is not even my favourite du Maurier novel. Though it is beautifully written, I find the voice of the new Mrs de Winter a little too insipid for my tastes and difficult to listen to for long. I’ve picked this book up and put it down again so many times the story has always been a bit of a disjointed blur for me. In my defence though,  I have seen the play and I did watch the Alfred Hitchcock movie last night specially for this review.

Movie poster 1956

And what a fab movie it is too!

Joan Fontaine is brilliant. When reading Rebecca I never developed much sympathy for the new Mrs de Winter – I could never understand what all the fuss was about over the costume ball for example – but watching the film made me cringe in sympathy for her. Laurence Olivier really brings the character Maxim alive too, maintaining an undeniable charm on the surface but with an added aura of menace and control over his new bride. And if gloom-ridden, gothic mansions are your thing – well, the opening shots of Manderley are a treat!

Four out of five stars.

Fans of Daphne Du Maurier will be interested to know that Virago press are publishing a new anthology of her short stories this week. Called The Doll, this collection features 13 ‘forgotten’ short stories written by du Maurier early on in her career. The titular story – lost for more than 70 years – is a macabre tale about a man who discovers that the girl he’s smitten with is besotted with a mechanical sex doll. 

Here’s a description taken from the Virago website:

 ‘I want to know if men realise when they are insane. Sometimes I think that my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror – too much despair …I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face. If only it had been a dream.’

 In ‘The Doll’, a waterlogged notebook is washed ashore. Its pages tell a dark story of obsession and jealousy. But the fate of its narrator is a mystery. Many of the stories in this haunting collection have only recently been discovered. Most were written early in Daphne du Maurier’s career, yet they display her mastery of atmosphere, tension and intrigue and reveal a cynicism far beyond her years.

More information can be found at the Virago press website HERE.

Virago 2003

And to celebrate all things splendiferously Daphne, I have not one but two copies of Rebecca to give away free to anyone with a UK postal address.

The first is an Arrow edition, published 1992 with a short biography and photograph of the author on the inside cover (pictured above). The second, shown left, is the very nice Virago Modern Classic edition.

Just email me via the contacts page with your preference. First come first served. Enjoy!

My Pan copy - love the colour of that sky!