I was so pleased when my good friend Ali of the Heaven-Ali blog announced she was doing another Daphne du Maurier Reading Week and I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one of the remaining ones I had to read and fancied (I’ve previously read “Rebecca“, “Jamaica Inn” and “My Cousin Rachel” for her 2020 and 2021 Weeks). I had a choice of a few but came back with “The Scapegoat” and what can I say? Another cracking read!

Daphne du Maurier – “The Scapegoat”

(April 2022, borrowed from Ali)

He was my shadow or I was his, and we were bound to each other through eternity. (p. 210

It’s hard to review this one without giving away the plot. Basically, an English gent called John with no ties or family and a sort of job lecturing in French history on a part-time basis for a university is wandering around northern France on his way home from another summer’s trip when he encounters his double! Next thing he knows, he’s been duped, tricked and drugged and is faced with the temptation of taking on a different person’s life – someone with a full life, living in a chateau with a large extended family, but also someone who turns out to be Not Very Nice, having led an idle life of minor cruelties, complete with wife and two mistresses, not engaging in the family firm; a wastrel.

Of course John could go to the police but where would the book be then? When family retainer Gaston appears with a car, off he sweeps to the chateau and what is surely longer than a week trying to work out who he’s supposed to be. And here du Maurier is her usual expert self at both instilling alarm and suspense and also at the details. How will John/Jean work out where his room is? What exactly did Jean to do ruin his siblings’ lives? Who are these gifts for and why? What happened during the Second World War, now 15 years ago, to divide the family?

Through a mixture of detective work, happenstance and having the truth shouted at him by various exasperated family members and employees, he works out what’s what and then starts to seek to change things – especially when a couple of events really shock him. Why does he do this? The chance to engage with a family, I think – he loves them, and he says he does. Only one activity of his goes wrong, when he thinks he’s being clever. When he acts out of a redemptive motivation, you begin to think his plans might work and improve matters.

Of course, all good things will come to an end. Where is Jean? Has he taken up John’s quiet life in London? Well, um …

The humour. and the justice, struck me at last. I had played about with human life; he had not. I had done my best to change his household; he had merely yawned and taken his ease. I had meddled; he had only spied. (p. 358)

I really could not work out what was going to happen. I wish the ending could have been different, but how could it have been, really (I see this is what I thought of “True Biz”, too, that very different novel: how interesting!). And who guessed John’s secret? Only those you would think might do. One weird thing I noticed was that the language read in a slightly stilted way I’ve noticed before with DdM which reminds me very much of the translation of Alain-Fournier’s “Le Grand Meaulnes” – more obvious here as it also treats ancient chateaux in the French countryside. An excellent read which I’m very glad was chosen for me!

What have you read for this Week? Have you read this one? Do link to your review in the comments if you did.