Jamaica Inn is a wonderfully atmospheric book with plenty of Gothic elements, and I do so love Gothic! The opening scene of the 1939 Hitchcock movie version of Jamaica Inn, all dark and stormy and eerie, was in my mind as I picked up this book hoping for something with "mood" and setting. I was not disappointed as you can see by this wonderfully "gray" opener:
"It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o'clock in the afternoon, the pallour of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four. The air was clammy cold ..."
A "mizzling rain." I'm not even sure what mizzling is, but it sure does bring up an image in my mind.
The story takes place in the early 1800s on the Cornish coast. The main character is Mary Yellan, a strong willed and independent young woman who promises her dying mother that she will sell the family farm and go to her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn. Mary's mother is afraid that it will be too hard for a single woman to maintain the farm and wants an easier life for her daughter. Mary honors her mother's dying wishes even though she would really like to stay near her sunny, friendly village and farm the family property.
Mary has only met her Aunt Patience once and remembers her as a vibrant, vivacious woman. The woman she finds when she arrives at Jamaica Inn, on a cold and stormy night, is not even recognizable. Aunt Patience is a shell of a woman, frightened of her own shadow. Uncle Joss is a big, mean man radiating evil intent. Jamaica Inn is in a state of utter decay and, despite its position on a main road, has no traveling customers. All of the locals know it as an evil place and coach drivers hurry past without stopping.
There are plenty of mysterious midnight goings-on that Mary has been warned to ignore. Of course, you can't have a heroine that ignores mysterious midnight goings-on! Mary soon learns that there is true evil and what that evil can look like. I can't tell you more about that without seriously spoiling the story, so you will just have to read it. *smile*
There is a romance within the story that took me by surprise. Mary is attracted to Jem, the proverbial "bad boy." Jem, a horse thief, is the younger brother of Uncle Joss and Mary is wary of her feelings for him. After all, he is a Merlyn man. Again, I can't tell you more about this without spoilers. I will tell you that I was a bit surprised at the way this aspect of the story resolved and I'm not sure what I think about the way the book ended.
I particularly enjoyed the setting and the contrast the author creates between the sunny village of Mary's childhood and the stormy, windswept moors and stark coastline of Jamaica Inn. The decay and lurking evil are palpable. The characters are much like the physical settings. Mary has a sunny disposition and radiates confidence and an inner happiness, while the other characters are dark and display an inner decay.
I loved the character of Mary Yellan. I liked her strength and independence. It is rather odd to have such an independent woman for the time period of the story; perhaps this was a bit of 1930s seeping in through the author. Still, even with the disconnect, the strength of this character kept the story from becoming depressing.
This book is definitely a keeper that I will read again in the future. I'm looking forward to watching the old Hitchcock version again, now that I've read the book, so I can compare!
Jamaica Inn was my selection for The 1930s Mini-Challenge hosted by Nymeth at things mean a lot and one of my selections for the Daphne du Maurier Challenge hosted by Chris at Book-A-Rama.