Book Review: Frenchman's Creek

Frenchman's Creek Daphne du Maurier novel Cornwall romance historical fiction
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Whenever I go on holiday, I always like to take a book that's set in the same place that I'm visiting. For some reason I find it much easier to place myself in the action and picture the characters moving through the landscape. So, whenever I go to Cornwall, I tend to pick up a Daphne du Maurier novel. Last year it was Jamaica Inn, and this year I took Frenchman's Creek, which is set on the Helford River about ten miles from where we stayed this time.

The novel follows Lady Dona St Columb, who flees the tediousness of her life at court in London and her husband Harry to her family's estate in Cornwall. Whilst enjoying the peace and quiet of her new home, she stumbles upon a ship full of French pirates which is moored in the nearby creek, and meets their charismatic captain who shows her a life of danger, adventure and passion.

On the surface Frenchman's Creek is very much a typical romance: bored aristocratic lady meets handsome charming lower-class rogue who sweeps her off her feet and makes her realise that there's more to life than her dreary repetitive existence. But it goes a lot deeper than that - so much of it is about control, and in particular who controls Dona. She flits from trying to reclaim control of her life with Harry to actually taking that control when she moves to Cornwall, then losing it again when she falls in love. I found that idea of walking the line between abandoning your duties and embracing who you are really interesting, especially in the historical context of the novel.

The setting is also portrayed beautifully - you can practically smell the sea air and see the dappled sunlight on the side of the pirate ship as you read the book. We did actually go up to Helford this holiday and, although a lot of it had changed, I could really picture Dona and the pirates walking along the river bank. However, I felt that many of the characters didn't feel very rounded or like they had a lot of depth. I also struggled to feel sympathy for Dona a lot of the time, as she seemed to be lacking in motivation for why she ran away to Cornwall and didn't come across as very compassionate. I actually found myself siding more with her husband, who came across as boorish but well-meaning, and the daughter she overlooked in favour of her son.

Overall, whilst it was a beautifully evoked setting and explored some interesting themes, I failed to connect with the characters in Frenchman's Creek as I have with those in other Daphne du Maurier novels I've read. That said, it was a quick and easy read - so great for a holiday - and created a wonderful, completely immersive world, so I'd say it's worth a read if you're going to that part of Cornwall.

Have you read any Daphne du Maurier novels? And are there any books you've read when you've been to where they're set?


  1. Du Maurier is my absolute favourite author of all time but I'm with you on this one. I enjoyed it but didn't connect with it as I have with others. 'Rebecca' is my favourite but 'My Cousin Rachel' is also brilliant. Have you read any of her short stories? They are extraordinary.

    1. I haven't read any of the short stories yet but will definitely add them to my to-read list - thank you for the recommendation!

  2. Love love love Du Maurier, she's my favorite author and one of the few authors who's books I can reread over and over. While I've read Frenchman's Creek I enjoyed My Cousin Rachel and Kings General more.

    1. I haven't read My Cousin Rachel yet but everyone seems to love it! Will add that and Kings General to my reading list (though it might be my next trip to Cornwall before I get round to it...)