While exploring a theme that is a soap-opera staple, the 'evil twin' scenario that introduces two beings who are so alike one another in appearance that they can conceivably switch places undetected, it is a rare author who can give it an original spin, such as Daphne Du Maurier has done, with a novel written 50 years ago.
Du Maurier is easily becoming one of my favorite authors, with her novels of brooding sentiment and sense of foreboding. Her characters here are no less haunted than those of Rebecca, which is, thus far, my favorite of her works, but are haunted in a much more tangible sense.
John, the protagonist, encounters his 'twin' on a chance meeting in France. Jean, the 'evildoer' of the two, plies him with alcohol, then leaves him to fend for himself in a hotel room, where he awakens and is instantly taken for Jean. Having no money, none of his own clothes, and no means of doing otherwise, John assumes the life of Jean, the Comte De Gue.
Arriving at St. Gilles, John; who muses at the beginning of the novel what it would be like to indeed be a man other than himself, is easily duped into assuming this role, more so than those that he fools with his masquerade. John finds himself intrigued by all the relationships he encounters, with Jean's wife, brother, sister, mother, and child, and a household and glass foundry full of employees. Setting out only to learn about them, he quickly insinuates himself into their lives in a way to undo the years of emotional abuse and suffering that Jean has inflicted upon them, as he grows more and more fond of them all.
Each of the characters he encounters has their own spectre to bear; Francoise, the pregnant wife of Jean De Gue, carries a child knowing that her first born prefers Jean over her...Paul, the brother, lives in the shadow of all that Jean is and has done; Blanche, the sister of the Comte De Gue, finds solace in God after the death of her lover fifteen years prior. Even Jean's mother has her own cross to bear, as John discovers later in the story.
When tragedy strikes the Chateau of St. Gilles, the inevitable occurs, and Jean returns to reclaim his position as head of the house. While this sudden reappearance was anticipated all along, it still seems a bit 'contrived' to have Jean reappear in the manner he does.
But Du Maurier is in fine form as she creates a world for John to enter, as Jean. The family, so disenchanted with him, scarcely pays enough attention to him to notice any differences. The staff caters to him in their usual methods, and carries on in much the same way they always have. Its as if no one particularly cares for Jean enough to notice anything different about him.
But fear not, Du Maurier has plenty of surprises to throw in along the way to keep this an intriguing read. The mood is apropos of other of her works, dark and foreboding, gloomy and maudlin....as she weaves her tale of assumed identity, and John becomes the scapegoat for the 'crimes' of the Comte De Gue.
An entertaining read from start to finish, I recommend any fan to indulge in this Du Maurier gem.