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Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

Gollancz, 1943; subsequent Penguin paperback


Always a pleasure to discover an unread Daphne du Maurier on your own bookshelf. This must have dated from my Penguin days 25 years ago, as it's branded with the Penguin "pulp shelf" stamp.

Enjoyment factor

As the original novelist in the space now known as "upmarket commercial" fiction, Daphne du Maurier's ability to successfully combine an engaging plot with an exploration of wider themes is a cast-iron guarantee for enjoyable holiday reading.

This novel spans follows five generations of a family who own an estate in Ireland over a century, 1820 - 1920. The original patriarch is a hard-working entrepreneur who identifies copper on his land and starts a lucrative mining operation. Subsequent generations are not so hard-working, to say the least, but the income from the mines sustains their lifestyles over the best part of a hundred years.

The formula for Hungry Hill follows that of du Maurier's debut novel The Loving Spirit, published in 1931, which follows a century of subsequent generations of a Cornish shipbuilding family. But surprisingly, given that three of her most famous novels, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek, were published in the interim, I didn't find Hungry Hill quite as engaging as The Loving Spirit.

The series of layabout sons which follow the first generation aren't sufficiently differentiated, and too many of them are conveniently killed off before they can quite let the family estate go to wrack and ruin. The feeling is of consequences repeatedly left unexplored.

It left me thinking ...

How descendants of entrepreneurs are rarely as ambitious as the founder, especially when allowed to live freely on the fruits of the founder's work; and subsequently, the flaws in the system of a family business being automatically handed on to blood descendants.

But also, about the nature of a family home as the culmination of the personalities and memories which make up that family over generations. Regardless of their interest in the business which fuels their lifestyle, the characters through all of the generations feel fiercely loyal to their family home. The sense of their roots is strong, which must be a wonderfully grounding feeling.

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