In this prescient novel, Daphne du Maurier explores the implications of leaving Europe for a political, economic and military alliance with the United States. 'It is rather awful, Emma thought as she walked across the fields down to the farm, how this business is leading us all into subterfuge and deception, and we can't really tell who is friend and who is enemy . . . ' Emma wakes up one morning to an apocalyptic world. The cosy existence she shares with her grandmother, a famous retired actress, has been shattered: there's no telephone, no radio - and an American warship sits in the harbour. England has withdrawn from the European Common Market and, on the brink of bankruptcy, has decided that salvation lies in a union - political, military and economic - with the United States. Theoretically it is to be an equal partnership, but it soon begins to look like a takeover bid. As the two women piece together clues about the 'friendly' military occupation on their doorstep, family, friends and neighbours come together to resist the interlopers.
The novel is set on the eve of an ominous US/UK “alliance” in which American marine personnel are stationed in and around a small Cornish town. Emma is a young woman who lives with her grandmother, a famous actress who has a habit of adopting stray children. This is the story of Emma and her family, and how a Cornish town rebels against the US/UK alliance.
This book is similar to some of her other books and stories; in particular, the atmosphere of this novel reminds me a lot of the short story “The Birds.” Although the American marines aren’t outwardly dangerous at first, there’s a menacing air to them that becomes downright creepy over time. The book is described as being futuristic, but it’s hard to know exactly when this book is supposed to take place. It’s also been described as political commentary, but du Maurier’s message isn’t exactly clear—she’s a lot better at creating atmosphere as opposed to making political commentary.
As far as the characters go, mad is of course head and shoulders above the rest; I love that she’s both eccentric and humorous, especially in the way she dresses. I’m not sure, though, why du Maurier kept emphasizing people’s ages; we must hear over and over again that Mad is 79. Maybe it was foreshadowing to prepare the reader for the end of the book, but I thought that part of the story was clumsily done. Although this book is a page-turner, I don’t think that it’s one of du Maurier’s best, unfortunately.
The intro to the Virago edition was informative and probably helped me understand the book the little that I did. I'm a little undecided how to rate this. I decided on 2 stars because for me it was less than what I consider an average good read. However, it IS well written - just that the story is rather off. And I did enjoy reading parts of it much more than my short review suggests. In a word, I was disappointed.
Re: Rule Britannia especially, it felt very uneven, as though it were a combination of several drafts - a satirical comedy version and a serious suspense/romance take on the same premise. At times things would seem quite serious and dramatic, and at others the narrator would seem like a parody character and the most absurd could-never-happen-in-reality things would happen and be taken as normal! I almost stopped reading midway through, but I did want to know what would happen enough to go on.
I wouldn't recommend it as a first or even second du Maurier novel, but if you're already a fan it's a fun oddity (being her last novel published ever) about an 80-year-old British woman leading a rebellion against US invaders.