Friday, May 15, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

I’m back. That was too long a break from reading. . .lots going on.

But, I did finally settle in with a book, and it was a great one. I picked one that did double-duty for the Historical Fiction Challenge and my Back-to-the-Classics Challenge: Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title. I chose Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

It’s hard to believe I’ve never read this; it’s been on my TBR list for as long as I’ve had a list. When I opened the book and read: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again, the line was so familiar to me I thought: Have I really not read this before? I thought I did, but I hadn’t, or I would have remembered more than that classic first line.

Written in 1938, Rebecca is considered Daphne du Maurier’s finest book, and it is certainly her most popular, never having gone out of print since its first publication.

The story is narrated by the protagonist, older and wiser now, who is looking back on her younger self and the tragedy that she and her husband have been through. The name of the protagonist is never given, although we are told that it is unusual. She recalls for us how she met her husband, Maxim de Winter, in Monte Carlo. At the time, she was a naive young woman, an orphan, and a paid companion to a rather awful woman. Maxim was a new widower whose first wife, Rebecca, had died tragically not a year before in a boating accident. He didn’t speak of it but the protagonist’s employer did.

After a brief, whirlwind courtship, Maxim and the protagonist are wed. The second Mrs. de Winter is swept home to Manderley, an English estate, buried away near the coast, an extraordinarily beautiful, but isolated, home. However, it comes with a lot of baggage–Maxim’s memories and a house full of servants, including the forbidding Mrs. Danvers, the head housekeeper.

Maxim is haunted by his memories of Rebecca. She was a charming, vivacious, and beautiful woman. Everyone who knew her, loved her, Mrs. Danvers most of all.

Our protagonist is near paralyzed with insecurity. Her husband is almost twice her age and born to this lifestyle. She is a fish out of water. From the moment she enters Manderley, she feels oppressed by Rebecca’s shadow. Mrs. Danvers’ obsession with her dead mistress borders on, and perhaps crosses over into, insanity. And her husband, whose support she needs most of all, has become increasingly aloof. Moody even.

This book is a work of gothic, romantic suspense. One of the reasons it worked so well for me is that despite it being on my radar for so many years, and despite my having heard little bits and pieces about it, I didn’t know the actual plot. I’d never come across any spoilers. So I won’t delve any deeper into plot points that could spoil it for anyone else.

I did think the author did a wonderful job of showing the shy, gauche, insecure young mistress of the house lost and alone, desperate to fit in. Choosing to tell the story from the point of view of the same character looking back was a wonderful choice. The narrator acknowledges the ridiculousness of youth but with a heart-wrenching empathy for it. She knows better than any judgmental reader that she could have acted differently, been a stronger person, but she explains the state of mind of that naive young bride so well that I am right there with her.

If you’re looking for a fairly quick read with some mystery, suspense, and old-fashioned romance, you can’t go wrong with Rebecca.