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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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Short Story Super-Review

Hello again. Lately I've been reading a lot of short fiction collections, and I figured it might be better to lump reviews of them all together since I can't quite write a full review of a book of stories (I mean, I tried it with Tenth of December and it turned out okay, I guess).

xo Orpheus
Thanks, NetGalley!

This is a short story collection of myths rewritten by a bunch (re: 50) of authors. I have a strong interest in mythology, so this seemed like a great idea. And certainly there were parts of it that were a great idea. But it's a big collection (50 stories and almost 600 pages); not every story was interesting or well-done. I will confess that I skipped through quite a few of the tales, especially if the original myth was one I didn't know (which accounts for a large percentage of the book's end stories).

Collections like this are difficult to review. I could go through and tell you about each one, but that's exhausting and boring and I didn't even read them all. So here are a few highlights: "Anthropogenesis, Or: How to Make a Family", Laura van den Berg: a retelling of the Norse creation myth; "Devourings", Aimee Bender: This one claims to be a take on Cronos, but it ends up being a beautiful, sad tale about giving and taking and love. As enchanting and haunting as all Bender tales are; "Galatea", Madeline Miller: This one is a story from the point of view of Galatea, the statue created by Pygmalion. Also very sad, but very good; "Wait and See", Edith Pearlman: I have no idea what myth this is supposed to be. The book says it's the myth of human pentachromats, but I am not familiar with such a myth nor can I find one. So let's just say it's an original tale about a boy who can perceive far more colors than a normal human.

"Birdsong from the Radio", Elizabeth McCracken: This one is about "child-eating demon, Greek/Lamia", and is a story about a mother who loses her children and starts eating loaves of bread that she imagines is them. I keep saying that all of these are "sad and beautiful", but this is the case; "Narcissus", Zachary Mason: This one tries to rectify the (what the author believes is) flawed myth compilation of Echo and Narcissus. What can I say? Tragic and sad and heartbreaking but beautiful; "Lost Lake", Emma & Peter Straub: A Persephone tale. The authors (father and daughter) mention that the story kept wanting to lengthen itself, and I could feel it. Kind of disappointing as a short story, but very promising as a sketch for a novel. Wouldn't mind reading more.

It's not a terribly consistent collection. Looking back at the table of contents, I'm surprised by how many stories I actually didn't finish because they're boring. But the ones I put forward as my favorites were fantastic, certainly making the whole thing worth the effort. I just wish there had been a little more precision in the editing of the collection; maybe instead of 50 stories, we could have had 20. Or 25. Something.
My rating: 3.5/5

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt / Willful Creatures
Okay, so I've admitted it before and will admit it again--I'm a bad book blogger. I read these two collections, loved them, but forgot to write down which stories I liked so that I could talk about them in a review. Oops. Here's what I have to say about both of these books together: Aimee Bender's short stories remind me a lot of George Saunders': they're occasionally hyperreal, sometimes overflowing with some element of unreality, but they always manage to evoke simultaneously the beauty and the despair of the world around us. Heartbreaking, evocative and lushly-written.
My rating: 4.5/5