Although I haven't read all of Du Maurier's novels, I've read enough of them to officially acknowledge that she is one of my favorite authors. The first person narration of The Scapegoat reminded me a lot of Rebecca in that the reader is privy to the psychological state of mind of the narrator. Maybe adding the word "super" would better explain the intensity of this POV...super first person narration...yes, much better. I felt that I had truly stepped into the mind of the narrator, John/Jean de Gue'.
At the beginning of the novel, John is an English professor of French language and culture on holiday in France for research. He is dissatisfied with his life, commenting that he is simply an observer and not an active participant. John wishes he could belong to a French family and feel the sense of kinship and community instead of always feeling on the outside of life.
The phrase "Be careful what you wish for" applies here as John meets Jean de Gue', a French aristocrat who shockingly enough looks exactly like him. After a few drinks and some intimate conversation, John discovers that de Gue' has the opposite problem; he is overburdened by his family. They drink quite a bit. The next day John discovers that de Gue' has drugged him and absconded with his identity, clothes, and car. De Gue's family driver does not believe John when he denies he is Jean de Gue' and takes him to the family chateau. John's first puzzle is figuring out which woman in the sitting room is his "wife."
This book was hard to put down as it was utterly fascinating how John handles his mistaken identity not only in dealing with the family members, but how he becomes so involved with this new identity that he begins to think of himself as Jean de Gue' and not as John. There is a lot of intrigue and family trouble that he is forced to handle. Ultimately, he comes to love the family. The ending is a bit of a shock, but of course I won't share it here. I will end with my two favorite passages from the novel.
One had no right to play about with people's lives. One should not interfere with their emotions. A word, a look, a smile, a frown, did something to another human being, waking response or aversion, and a web was woven which had no beginning and no end, spreading outward and inward too, merging, entangling, so that the struggle of one depended upon the struggle of the other (74-75).
Sometimes it's a sort of indulgence to think the worst of ourselves. We say, 'Now I have reached the bottom of the pit, now I can fall no further,' and it is almost a pleasure to wallow in the darkness. The trouble is, it's not true. There is no end to the evil in ourselves, just as there is no end to the good. It's a matter of choice. We struggle to climb, or we struggle to fall. The thing is to discover which way we're going (200).Du Maurier, Daphne. The Scapegoat. New York: Doubleday, 1957.