The Scapegoat is the story of two men, identical in appearance, who meet by chance in a train station one day. After a few drinks too many, the Englishman, John, wakes in the morning to find that the Frenchman, Jean, has stolen his identity—and that John must take his doppelganger’s place, as the Count de Gue and the master of a failing estate, family, and glass making company.
I’ve read I believe six of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels now, and I can honestly say that this is different from the others. It’s not an historical novel, nor is it a novel of suspense. There’s no real feeling of terror that the reader feels (except maybe for one scene at the end) while reading this book. There’s no real mystery, here, either, except for the one of Jean’s past that John tries to piece together bit by bit. So what kind of novel is The Scapegoat?
It’s a brilliant novel about human nature, which pits two men who are in appearance very similar; but in other ways are very, very different. John’s life may be going down the tubes, too, but he doesn’t ever contemplate running away from his troubles the way that Jean does—therein lies the difference between the two men. I have to think that Jean de Gue (the real one) is a bit of a coward, running away from his responsibilities. But on the other hand, John is also a bit cowardly. I find it hard to believe that anyone, after making such an impact on a family in the space of the week, would just be able to walk away at the end. Also, I found it hard to believe that John could react so calmly to what Jean reveals about John’s life at the end of the book.
Still, this novel shows how amazing it is that people will believe anything you want them to, if it’s in the realm of possibility. After all, nobody would believe that two men, identical in appearance, would meet by chance one day and switch places—it’s just too fantastical to contemplate (which is why the chauffeur believes “Jean” to be drunk when he picks John up at the hotel at the beginning of the book). It’s a brilliant novel, as I’ve said about the way of human nature. It’s not my favorite of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels, but it’s pretty good all the same.