The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
published 1957 chapters 11 & 12
I saw we were being watched with intense amusement by a blonde woman in a bright blue coat, her own arms full of dahlias…
Someone came out on to the balcony to feed the birds, and I recognized in an instant the blonde woman in the bright blue coat who had laughed at [us] in the market-place…
[he goes in] Although she had closed the long window, the billowing casement curtains masking the view, the room was full of sun. I had an impression of blue-grey walls and white cushions, but the effect, instead of being cold, was light as air. The dahlias that I had seen her carrying from the market-place were red and gold, and now they spilt in profusion from a vase in the corner, the sun upon them still. There was a bowl of fruit upon a table, a bookcase, a Marie Laurencin drawing hanging above the fireplace. Deep chairs stood about the room, and a Persian cat cleaned its paws in one of them…. There was a smell of apricots...
She had thrown off the bright blue jacket, revealing a thin wool frock of indeterminate grey. It was restful to look upon her, and to know that in this room nothing was expected of me.
observations: The Scapegoat is good middle period Daphne du Maurier, with an excellent melodramatic plot – two men who are unrelated but identical exchange places, and we follow the solid Englishman trying to fill the shoes of Monsieur le Comte in a small town in France. There was a 1959 film with a stellar cast – Alec Guinness and Bette Davis – and a splendid new adaptation has just been shown on British TV, taking in considerable changes to the plot but remaining true to the spirit.
The woman in the blue coat is Bela, whom Jean/John is going to find out is his mistress. DduM used a male narrator’s voice in several books – perhaps reflecting an ambiguity in her own life. The room description, though vivid, seems a bit unconvincing: what it sounds like is a woman’s idea of a room with which she is going to charm a man. It’s clear that Bela is going to be a good person, in contrast to some of the others surrounding the hero.
The book is full of twists and turns – you’d be hard put to guess what is going to happen, and the ending (changed for TV) is surprising, to say the least. Her books are often thought of as middlebrow potboilers, but they are better than that – well-written, and chock-full of ideas and unexpected tweaks.
Links up with: Daphne du Maurier has featured before. Another mistress, another room, in this novel. A French girl in blue here. Impostors abound in this book.
The picture, The Blue Mandarin Coat by Joseph de Camp, can be found on Wikimedia Commons here.