January 27, 2011

Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier

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Ever read a book that makes you feel like you need to take a shower while you read it? There were parts of Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier that did that to me. I felt the way I did when I read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

Armino is a tour guide for Sunshine Tours. He wheels American and British tourists to all the popular spots in Italy. One night he spots a homeless woman in Rome who looks a lot like the woman who took care of him as a child. When he and his mother ran from their hometown of Ruffano during the war with a German soldier, they left the woman behind. He hasn't seen her in 20 years. The next day she turns up dead.

Armino drops everything to return to Ruffano hoping to find out if the dead woman is his old nanny and why she ended up on the steps of a church in Rome. When he arrives, he finds the town has changed a lot in 20 years. The local university is booming with students taking the new Commerce and Economics degree. The students are rowdy and there's animosity between them and the Arts students. When the head of the Arts department organizes a festival celebrating the Flight of Falcon (a local wack job from the middle ages), the tension between the two groups grows to dangerous proportions and Armino is in the middle of it all.

Why did I feel uncomfortable while reading this? It was the way that the festival organizer riled up the students. It was so manipulative they would have followed him off a cliff. He convinces both student groups to murder each other. Yep, murder. You see the festival is a re-enactment of a riot that occurred to drive out the man they called the Falcon: "the blood ran in the streets" they say. This guy wants authenticity, so real blood must be shed. And these kids don't have any qualms about it (ok, maybe a couple do but they never do anything about it). They're all, "Yeah! Let's get those C&E kids! That'll teach 'em to want educating!" This is also 1964 and there are references to World War II. The shadow of fascism falls over those pages.

Then there's the secret society that sneaks around doing awful things to people in the night. One of those things was an apparent rape (apparent because that's the rumour, no one really knows). When word gets out, people treat it like it's a big joke and make comments about the woman. I was bothered by that.

Armino is the only person horrified by these goings on. Yet he doesn't do much about it. My frustration with him is how he could have prevented a lot of things that happen to him if he went to the police. Of course, there's a reason Armino doesn't and I can't mention that because it's spoilery. However, du Maurier uses so much foreshadowing in the first couple of chapters, the Big Reveal isn't that surprising. I was thinking, "Well, duh."

Throughout the novel I wondered what was the motive of the organizer, was he just crazy? When he tells Armino what happens was his plan was all along, I thought maybe du Maurier was the crazy one! That was wacky.

Du Maurier is not shy about showing readers the ugly side of humanity. And it's pretty ugly. As you can tell from this, the story meanders all over the place but somehow it comes together in the end. There are mysteries and family secrets in there too. Although I had to walk away from it when I was too disturbed by it, I wanted to know how things were going to turn out. This is different than many of her other books but much more like one of her short stories. It's not my favorite Daphne du Maurier but it is definitely interesting.

Recommended after you've read a lot of her other work.

7 comments :

  1. Interesting... I need to read more books by du Maurier, but the library has really horrid versions that don't appeal to me... Will have to see what my other options are!

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  2. Wow. I bought this at a used book sale and have it in my TBR pile. It sounds kind of awesome, actually.

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  3. Considering that The Lottery gave me nightmares for years, I think I'll give this one a pass but I'm a little startled by the plot.

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  4. You're right, there was something unpleasant about the book even though the story is interesting:)

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  5. Kelly- The older covers are pretty awful.

    Heidenkind- I hope you like it!

    Carrie- Yeah, the plot is a little startling.

    Sarah- I'm glad it's not just me.

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  6. Armino reminded me abit of the nameless main character in Rebecca, he was so submissive and strangely sexless I thought, esp when compared to his brother. I thought the setting was perfect but yeah there were some grubby aspects to it.

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  7. I know I must read more of DuMauier after having finished Rebecca. *sigh* Why did I wait so long.

    Oh and yes, I do understand the "need to take a shower" after reading/watching something. The movie Happiness does it to me every time.

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