Tell you what? Grab a cup of tea, get into the rocking chair on the porch as the sun sets, and start with ‘Frenchman’s Creek.’ It’ll leave you immensely delighted, and I promise you that!

A period of lasting insipidness in the author’s life inspired ‘Frenchman’s Creek.’ Miss Maurier was married to a British army officer who would be away for days leaving her alone with her kids and their nanny. In one such phase of isolation, ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ took birth in the author’s mind. And the moment I had hands on this piece of information, I hunted the book down and embarked upon it. You would do the same if you are an ardent lover of her books.

Rushing off with the review.

Our protagonist, Lady Dona St. Columb is married to Sir Harry and lives in London with her 2 children and their nanny. She is dead bored of her aristocratic life and seeks an escapade. Her husband’s estate – Navron, set upon the moors of Cornwall serves as the ideal place which promises recluse; away from London and from the husband and life she doesn’t love.

Arriving upon Navron, rumors of a pirate wreaking havoc reach her ears, but hardly does she impart attention to the pleas of assistance from the neighbors. One night, Dona finds a book of poetry and a jar of tobacco in her bedroom and is intrigued to find who it belongs to. Soon, she discovers that William, her servant, has been assisting the pirate all along. She sets out on the creek to solve the mystery where she’s captured by the pirate’s fellowman and brought to the ill-famed captain, pirate Jean-Benoit Aubery. And begins the adventure that Dona had been longing for.

Upon meeting the notorious and handsome pirate, Jean-Benoit Aubery, Dona instantly takes a liking to him for he’s not only charming and gentlemanly, but educated, civil and an artist. The chance encounter adds vigor in Dona’s melancholic life and she is ever so keen in pursuing whatever might come out of this new-found affection for the pirate. As impulsive, headstrong and audacious as our Lady Dona is, will she risk everything to chase what she’s most desired and finally found by a stroke of luck?

As I was reading the book, I realised it is quite easy to sympathize with Dona, with her constant struggle to break-free of the barriers and fly away. She’s a simple woman seeking happiness over material pleasures. She expresses as much to her emotionally unavailable husband on the day she’s leaving for Navron, when she solemnly says:

“And one day I set a linnet free, and it flew straight out of my hands towards the sun?… Because I feel like that. Like the linnet before it flew.”

When Dona meets the French pirate, she experiences a whirlwind of suppressed emotions. As she learns that he’s a traveler and a pirate by choice,  she comes to see how much is common between them – their love to break-free of routine, chase their dreams, challenge dangers and enjoy the adventure. Here’s how modishly Miss Maurier establishes this:

‘Why are you a pirate?’ Dona said at last, breaking the silence.
‘Why do you ride horses that are too spirited?’ he asked her.
‘Because of the danger, because of the speed, because I might fall,’ she said.
‘That is why I am a pirate,’ he said.

Miss Maurier’s books have several things in common – moors, isolated estates, oceans and creeks, fishing, wandering in the woods, and her perennial search for freedom, and all this you will find in abundance in ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ too. And yet the story never gets predictable or boring, on the contrary her characters are so well built and there is so much life in their identities that you keep turning pages after pages.

Sublime romance sprinkled with humor and deft dialogues makes this a beautiful reading experience. As I have written for most of her book-reviews, and I write still – her books stand out from the crowd of historical novels for her impeccable writing style, the lucid language, nostalgic emotions dripping out of descriptions of places, people, etc. It is simply amazing how she makes even creeks and moors feel so exotic and electrifying.

What’s more to say! I have always been in love with her books. But if I found anything amiss with ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ is the fate Dona is assigned to by Miss Maurier. I guess as humans we want that to stay longer what makes us happier. Miss Maurier, however, chooses morals. I loved Dona, I admired the French pirate, and their bittersweet tale will stay with me for long for words like these:

“And this then, that I am feeling now, is the hell that comes with love, the hell and the damnation and the agony beyond all enduring, because after the beauty and the loveliness comes the sorrow and the pain.” 

Some readers did not love the book because they did not find it at par with ‘Rebecca’ or ‘My Cousin Rachel’. It’s normal to have expectations. But why compare? It’s cruel to compare since the books are world’s apart. I’d say read it leaving the bag of expectations behind and you might emerge much happier.

If you happen to read ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ or have already read it, do share your thoughts below.

Asha Seth