Du Maurier’s novel is difficult to classify. I almost want to identify it as a young adult novel, since many of the novel’s main characters are under the age of twenty. Even the various adults who appear and disappear throughout the novel are childlike in appearance and action. At times, the reader feels as if the children are the ones in charge here, since they seem to have the most dominant presence.
Of the the seven or so du Maurier novels I’ve so far read, this is by far the wackiest in regard to plot. The Americans have seized the UK to form a union in order to preserve the economic stability of the two countries—the USUK. The novel is focused on one small Cornish town’s efforts to thwart and expel these unwelcome invaders. In truth, this isn’t one of du Maurier’s best novels. The progression of the story is very much like du Maurier’s description of Mad’s driving skills: [...]they swerved out of the lane at the top of the hill and on to the main road, taking the corner like the driver of a bob-sleigh at St. Moritz.[...] It was clear, fortunately for the bob-sleigh team, until they reached the bottom of the hill, when Mad, with great presence of mind, slammed her foot on the break and brought her craft to a halt almost immediately beneath a road-block that barred further progress.
The story accelerates at full tilt, hurtling wildly before careening to a sudden stop at the end with a few casualties dispersed here and there along the way. Because the story is told in such a brusk manner, not enough detail is given regarding the reasons that lead up to this invasion or what’s to happen afterwards. Like the Poldrea townsfolk, the reader is just as baffled and confused by the sudden turn of events. Truly, the novel is one a wild ride.
That said, there are some absolutely priceless moments interspersed throughout. It is du Maurier after all. The descriptions of Mad and her brood of adopted boys are wonderfully and unabashedly vivid. Reading this novel really is like watching a film. It’s the best part of this book. Here are a few gems:The middle boys also had bunks, but their room was larger than the little boys’ lair, and it had a distinctive smell. This was due to the wired-off portion, containing a very ancient grey squirrel which, Sam had decided, could no longer fend for itself. The squirrel had shared the bedroom with him and Andy for several weeks. Discarded nut-shells scattered the floor.The thing was, Mad’s cakes were terribly hit or miss, generally miss, and the net result, as Pa used to say, was like molten lead. Her one or two successes had gone to her head, but usually the effect upon everybody’s digestion was damaging to the extreme and the cakes had to be crumbled up the next day and given to the birds. [...] ‘I think it’s going to be all right,’ sad Mad later, inspecting her creation, which, on emerging from the oven and being turned out of its tin, looked like a semi-inflated, khaki coloured balloon and exuded a curious smell of burnt almonds and bitter chocolate. ‘It’s risen, anyway. They don’t always.’
An interaction between an American captain, the blond, curly-haired six year-old cherub Colin and three year-old Ben, who’s being taught to learn how to speak by Colin: ‘Want your picture taken, honey?’ [Colin] said in an American accent, and pressing a button let fly a wriggling snake on a spring that leapt into the air and hit the captain in the eye. ‘Fuck off,’ said Ben, clapping his hands.‘The Jesus talk was much better than a think-in,’ insisted Colin, trying to pull away Terry’s crutch, ‘because afterwards we had to act scenes from Jesus’ life. The others did loaves and fishes, and went round the class pretending to give each other bread. I thought that was silly. I took my ruler and lashed out at them all, and when Miss Birkett asked what I was doing and said it wasn’t right to be rough, I said I was Jesus whipping the money lenders in the Temple. Mrs. Hubbard went away after that. She said she had to go on to another school. Miss Birkett gave me a star, all the same.’
As a final note, in all of her books, du Maurier describes situations honestly and unabashedly. Some moments in her books are quite uncomfortable to read. But one thing I am glad about this novel is that du Maurier doesn’t shirk away from blame and culpability. Some of the characters in this novel do commit horrible acts. Though these acts seem to be generally praised by the majority, there are a few characters who do maintain a conscience throughout, and the sense of guilt is slowly spread and felt, even including the culprit.
Overall, Rule Britannia
is a very strange read, yet it’s wildly engaging.