Isn’t it spectacularly annoying when you read a book for the first time that delivers the original concept behind your own novel so brilliantly that you are unsure if you can possibly match it?
I experienced this emotion this week after reading Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘My cousin Rachel‘. The image she builds up of a character only seen through other people’s eyes is fascinating, providing the reader with a conclusion of Rachel that is, at best, questionable . You never quite know what it is this alluring woman has actually done or what she is fully responsible for. That is exactly the impression that I would like to leave reader’s with about my own protagonist, Madeline.
I suppose it proves that the best way to learn about the craft of writing comes not just with practice, but also from the study of other’s efforts through the act of reading. I feel as though I have learned a lot in the last month, and the majority of it has resulted from the vast amount of reading I have managed of late: a four-book series for Young Adults (The Books of Pellinor), Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, and, this week, Daphne Du Maurier’s work:’ My cousin Rachel’.
While a part of me is slightly peeved at the inconvenient truth that the concept of writing a character from the perspective of other characters has been so deftly successful in other author’s hands, it’s also comforting to know that it can be done so well: it gives me something to aim for. Having read a novel whereby, in the end, I felt confusion over the title character’s ultimate ambition it has proven to me that such a dissatisfactory conclusion could provide a suitable end for a story. While I would love to know what Du Maurier believed her own creation to have been capable of, the mystery of it intrigues me more than having the answer would do: this is what I want my readers to feel about Madeline. I want her to be the enigma that the whole novel hangs upon, so that revealing her for who she truly is would damage the integrity not just of the story itself, but also of the reader’s experience of it.
I will keep Du Maurier’s book out, so that I might re-read it between edits of the current novel and try and capture some of her techniques via literary osmosis. It’s exciting to have such a wonderful example of that which I am attempting, not to copy, but to emulate. It spurs me on and reignites my excitement about my own creation, who hopefully shall be as misunderstood as cousin Rachel might be.