Original Pub. Date: 1938
Original Publisher: Victor Gollancz
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives--presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
I adored the works by du Maurier that I read previously, like My Cousin Rachel and The Birds and other Stories. However, something about Rebecca always put me slightly off. For some reason it felt like a stuffy novel to me, one that would be long and dry and antiquated. Perhaps I got this feeling because of the Hitchcock film, one I appreciated for its artistry but didn't necessarily feel very taken in by. I couldn't even really remember most of the plot, but I knew a house featured very heavily. So I went into this novel with some low-key prejudices, which evaporated during the first chapter. Rebecca is a stunning novel, fresh, easy and perceptive. The novel unfolds in a way I have come to recognise as distinctive for du Maurier. She builds up a straight-forward narrative which seems as normal as could be, but chapter upon chapter she introduces the uncanny, the mysterious and the supernatural until the reader doesn't trust a single word. It is no surprise she is still one of the most successful female authors of all time.
du Maurier's unnamed protagonist is an amazing character. Sometimes it doesn't work, not naming your protagonist, it alienates your character from the reader, making them feel more distant than you wish. For du Maurier, however, it works brilliantly. She allows her protagonist to be vulnerable and soft, afraid and brave, and her relative blankness makes her the perfect canvas for the reader's own dreams and fears. Her openness is incredibly affecting, it makes you want to befriend her and protect her, but it is also like looking into a mirror as a modern woman. Her fear that she is not good enough, that there is a perfect standard she should strive for and that everyone is secretly disappointed in her, is incredibly recognizable. Much of du Maurier's protagonist's sense of pressure is imagined, no one wants her to be like Rebecca, and that is where du Maurier shows just how perceptive she is. In the form of 'the first Mirs. de Winter', Rebecca personifies that hill so many women face even today. There are so many things we feel we need to be, standards we need to live up to and our constant fear of failing some secret test means we never speak out against the pressure we feel. It is a constant struggle that is not even truly resolved in the novel, and is also far from being resolved in real life. But reading a novel like this helps figuring out where you stand in the world.
Although I did listen to Rebecca as an audio book, I still got a great sense of du Maurier's writing style. If I could copy any author's writing style it would probably be du Maurier's. She makes writing seem easy, belying just how much work her words do. Her descriptions of Manderley and its surrounding nature are incredibly evocative, making the landscape come to life in a way that's tangible. du Maurier's characters, except for her protagonist, are explored in a way that feels realistic. Rather than giving us occasional insights into their minds, she lets their actions speak for them. It is no surprise her protagonist finds it hard to read their feelings, and for much of the novel the reader is completely on her side when it comes to interpreting them. In reality we can't read other's minds either, and this approach makes Rebecca feel very true to life. And then there is the suspense and the mystery, which is palpable. Since the novel is so calm and the pace so sedate, everything slightly uncanny has a chilling effect. Also, a quick shout out to the audio book reader, Margaret Darling, who was absolutely brilliant! She hit the perfect tone, creating different voices for the characters and utterly transporting me. God, I can't wait for my eye to heal so I can actually read Rebecca and
I give this novel...
I adored Rebecca. It is a stunning book, a great insight into a young woman's mind and the struggles she faces in growing up, but it also never forgets to be terrifying. The plot twists and turns, continuously throwing new surprises at the reader and never quite going where you expect it. I'd recommend this to fans of Suspense and Women's Fiction.