Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday’s Forgotten Books: The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne Du Maurier

I went across the street and bent over the sleeping woman. The furtive odour of stale wine, worn clothes, rose to my nostrils… suddenly she stirred. She lifted her head. The features were aquiline and proud, the eyes, once large, were now sunken, and the straggling grey hair fell in strands to her shoulders. She must have travelled from some distance, for she had two baskets beside her containing bread and wine, and yet a further woollen shawl. Once again I was seized with that sense of recognition, that link with the past which could not be explained. Even the hand that, warm despite the cold air, held on to mine in gratitude awakened an involuntary, reluctant response. She stared at me. Her lips moved.

I turned, I think I ran.

Armino Fabbio gives some money to the homeless woman in the above passage. When he later hears that she’s been murdered, he is surprised to learn she was once a family servant. He feels compelled to return to his home town of Ruffano where he makes another astonishing discovery. His older brother, Aldo, who he thought died in the war, is alive.

Aldo serves as the director of the university arts council and is in the midst of a stage production on the sinister Duke Claudio (the Falcon), a brutal man who preyed on the Ruffano people five hundred years earlier.

Armino knows his brother is no less brutal than Claudio. His childhood memories of Aldo’s bullying haunt him. He recalls the time Aldo intimidated him into playing Lazarus and locked in a linen cupboard for a tomb:
So great was my dread, so disciplined to his commands my spirit, that I dared not disobey. I came forth, and the horror was that I did not know whether I should meet with the Christ or with the devil, for according to Aldo’s ingenious theory the two were one, and also, in some manner which he never explained, interchangeable.

Armino suspects Aldo is using the students for his own nefarious purposes despite the fact that they see him as an ally.

The book continues to flash between present day and the brothers’ past, The Falcon’s history, the servant’s murder and possible implications it has for Armino plus the hectic university life circa the mid 1960s. The plotlines interweave, building to a couple of unexpected plot revelations and a tragic ending.

Before Du Maurier wrote Falcon, she was criticized for being an "agreeable writer of agreeable fiction" and "nostalgic novelist yearning for the past." Perhaps because of these drubbings, she decided to create a complex, multilayered plot.

In 1965, she appeared to have some doubts about her work, "I’m afraid people are not going to understand it at all." She was right. Good Housekeeping demanded serious revisions before it was serialized in their magazine including a re-write of the ending. Du Maurier considered herself "on the slide" and she agreed to the changes. But in the end, the efforts didn’t pay off. The New Yorker called the novel "extraordinarily dull."

Is the plot a little convoluted? Yes. A little dull? It can be. So why recommend this book? Because, Daphne Du Maurier had a keen ability for creating atmospheric worlds, suspense and that old style of mystery they just don’t craft anymore.

I wouldn’t make this my first Du Maurier read. Her established pieces like Rebecca, The Birds and Other Stories (1963) and Not After Midnight (1971) are a better start. Then, like me, maybe you will become entranced and travel down that back road where The Flight of the Falcon is waiting.

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pattinase (abbott) said...

That cover is lovely, David. And I've read several of her books but never heard of this one. Thanks so much.

Josh said...

neat, will need to check this one out.

Scott Parker said...

David, you use the word 'atmospheric' and what immediately jumped to my mind was the movie "The Others." Whereas that was a ghost story, the atmosphere was palpable in that story, not unlike the heat and weather in the 87th Precinct novel I just finished. I like that feeling you can evoke in a reader. I've known about Du Maurier for awhile but never have read anything. Thanks for the tips on what to read first.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I have this book. Not absolutely sure. gotta check my records. Great writing in the sample scene, though.

David Cranmer said...

Patti, That cover struck me too... it's what prompted me pick it up.

Josh, Hope you like this one if you decide to check it out.

Scott, I agree with you on "The Others"... great movie. If you enjoyed that one and haven't seen "Rebecca" yet, then you should definitely check out that Hitchcock classic.

Charles, Sounds like you have too many books... if you need to get rid of a few, just send 'em my way! DuMaurier's a sharp writer who was unfairly maligned in her lifetime.

Anonymous said...

David, I'm glad to hear you're a fellow enthusiast of The Big Valley--thanks for your commment on Chris Jones' L'Amour blog. The Rifleman was also great--or at least I thought so back then.It must have come before Big Valley because I remember it being in black and white.
Anyway, Du Maurier is one of my favorites but I had never heard of this book--only her more famous ones like Rebecca and Green Dolphin Street. Thanks for the information!
Take Care,
Elizabeth Crook

David Cranmer said...

Elizabeth, I was a fan of Lee Majors as "The Six Million Dollar Man" in the seventies, and later when reruns of "The Big Valley" aired, I must have watched every episode of the Barkley clan 3-4 times... Since you've already read and enjoy Du Maurier, I think you'd like this book... Thanks for stopping by.