Monday, September 30, 2013

Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)

Rebecca is one of those books that I have owned and put off reading for just about forever. For some reason, I lately have been very into the idea of reading it--for the past few months, every time I thought about du Maurier's most famous novel, it has been with a sense of excited anticipation and intrigue.

Of course, this made me very nervous to actually read it--what if I was disappointed by it? I had been internally hyping it for months. It would be difficult for the book to match or exceed what I was expecting, especially considering all the reviews I'd been reading that called it variations of the phrase "a romantic Gothic suspense thriller masterpiece". It seemed too delicious to be true. And thankfully, it wasn't. Daphne did not let me down.

The first line of this book is one of those famous openers: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again", says the narrator, who spends the entirety of the novel unnamed. When the novel flashes back, we are with her in Monte Carlo, where she is a companion to a nosy older woman who ingratiates herself with a rich widow named Maxim de Winter. It's not long before Maxim has confessed his love for our narrator and they go off to his grand estate, happily married.

But our leading lady can't shake the ghost of Maxim's dead first wife, Rebecca. She haunts Manderley in every way--the decor is hers, the grand social events were her doing and the servants worshiped her for her charisma and great beauty. And of course we can't forget Mrs. Danvers, the head of the servants of the estate who loved Rebecca dearly and can't seem to accept the narrator as the new woman of the house.

The whole novel drowned me in a feeling of uneasiness: it's a tale of obsession and forgetting and never letting go. The twist near the middle-end of the novel caught me by surprise and served only to ratchet up the already-high levels of intrigue and suspense and dread. It's hard not to feel sympathetic for the narrator--anyone who has ever been in a relationship tainted by the hands of an ex-lover can understand her pain as she fights against everyone's memories of her apparently perfect predecessor.

There are strong echoes of  Jane Eyre in this novel, what with the whole estate-and-previous-wife setup. But where Eyre feels more focused on the love between Rochester and Jane, du Maurier wants us to examine what happens when the first wife has trapped everyone under her spell. It's all very sinister and dark and without a doubt a total delight. There are times when the book is more Turn of the Screw than Jane Eyre for me, and that's always a good thing.

My rating: 5/5
Rebecca on Goodreads
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