I always thought the title of Daphne du Maurier’s second novel was very sad, bitter even. Now on re-reading, I think it could be an expression of relief, as in ‘thank God I’ve already been through that awful business of being young’. She was only twenty-three when she wrote the book, which makes the choice of title even more intriguing. It’s not one of her best novels, however.
The story is narrated by Dick, a restless young man who left home to escape from the shadow of his famous poet father. He’s about to throw himself off a bridge when he is saved by Jake, who is several years older, has a quiet wisdom and a dangerous edge. Despite their differences in character, the pair become close friends and go travelling. Then tragedy strikes and Dick has to decide what to make of his life.
This is a kind of doomed romance in two parts, the first about Jake, the second about an insipid teenager named Hesta. It’s almost two separate stories in the same volume and not the better for it. There is some powerful atmospheric writing, almost exclusively confined to the first part. I think if you’ve read most of Daphne du Maurier’s other work then this one is worth a try, even just to see the development of her style, some clearly autobiographical content and some trademark features (such as the male perspective, the obsession with boats and modern conversations about relationships). I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re new to the author.
First published in 1932. This edition by Virago, 2005, with an introduction by Elaine Dundy.