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[personal profile] aryllian
The Scapegoat, by Daphne du Maurier was a strangely compelling read. It's not at all the sort of thing I would normally read--my fiction reading has for a long time been almost entirely speculative fiction, with the occasional mystery or old favorite from a time when I read more widely. I picked this up because it was mentioned in [ profile] papersky's journal in conjunction with If I Were You (Deception) by Joan Aiken and Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, two books I like.

And while there are parallels to both of those books, especially in the double being attracted to family life and wanting connection, it reminded me more of Trader by Charles de Lint. In both The Scapegoat and Trader, the protagonists trade places with someone else because they are bored and unhappy with their own empty life. The difference is that in Trader, the protagonist doesn't consciously choose to make the trade.

And that conscious decision is just what I don't understand in this book. The narrator, throughout the book, behaves in an impulsive, nonsensical way which baffles me. I find it hard to believe that someone who is said to have had such a tidy life normally behaves that way, but that's the only way the reader sees him. Even his few attempts to get out of the crazy situation are impulsive and entirely ineffectual. He jumps into his double's life with a complete lack of thought, makes decisions without a thought for the consequences, and then when he realizes he has messed up tries to fix things without first making any attempt to discover the whole picture.

I find his previous life very hard to believe in when it doesn't seem to effect his current behavior at all. Even history, which the reader is told was his passion, only comes up once, when he is familiar with the terms of a marriage contract because of his studies. It's as if he didn't actually exist before he takes over his double's life.

What fascinated me about the book is the ambiguity of the view the reader is given. The narrator sees things one way, he reflects on how his double would see things, and often his (rosy, sentimental) view is upset by the remarks of others. He usually goes back to seeing things his own way. I was inclined to accept the narrator's perspective, but I was not allowed to forget that it is only his perspective. There is no truth.

And what is the end result of everything? His comfortable but boring life was destroyed, he found something to love and will continue to love even though he can't stay, and the family was exposed to his tendresse, and will always look for it in the man he replaced, who in turn replaces him. This is both more and less than I was expecting. Mostly, I was expecting more resolution than was given. But perhaps the lack of resolution is just a continuation of the ambiguity.

Overall, I was fascinated but vaguely dissatisfied.


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