Rebeccaby Daphne Du Maurier-This is a book that I kept seeing referenced, especially around Halloween, and I thought I would give it a shot. I'm glad I did! I thought that it was going to be a scary ghost story, but I was wrong. It wasn't scary and there wasn't a ghost, but it was still a good story about a woman who is haunted by the reputation and her own assumptions about her husband's late wife, the infamous Rebecca.
Our narrator is the new Mrs. de Winter, and we never learn her actual name, which seems appropriate as she never seems to know exactly who she is either; all she does seem to know is that she is the new Mrs. de Winter, and she is definitely NOT Rebecca. She is reminded of her lack of Rebecca-ness all the time, visitors to Manderley, her new home and Mr. de Winter's famed estate, remark upon it; the family brings it up; the servants make it obvious; and she berates herself constantly about her inability to live up to Rebecca. Rebecca was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen, Rebecca was witty, Rebecca used to throw the most wonderful parties. Mrs. de Winter always used to put the flowers on that table, Madam; Mrs. de Winter's habit was to take care of all her correspondence after breakfast, Madam; would you like me to show you where she kept the stationery? Then there's Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper who seems to take particular joy in pointing out how not-Rebecca the new Mrs. de Winter is. She is her own brand of evil, but I also found her oddly sympathetic.
As the new Mrs. de Winter struggled to find her own identity I was simultaneously fed up with her and extremely sympathetic to her. As a young new bride to a recently-widowed older man who is clearly above her station in life, she is trying to fit into a world that is completely alien to her-she's never been the head of anything, let alone an estate! Everyone clearly loved Rebecca, her new husband is still clearly distraught over her loss, the staff are all very accommodating to her every request, but clearly they despise her for her sad attempts at filling Rebecca's shoes. Even the dogs know what the routine is supposed to be and, clearly, she does not. She's not as pretty, she gets tongue-tied in front of guests, she doesn't enjoy hunting. How can she compete? What was she thinking marrying this man? Why is Mrs. Danvers so evil?? At several points throughout the book, I just wished she'd man-up and say, "Look here, I'm sorry for your loss, I know you all still miss Rebecca, but, dammit, I'm not her and I never will be," and at the same time, how could she?
Ah! But then there is a twist! Things are revealed! Other things come to light! Were there suspicious circumstances surrounding Rebecca's death at sea? Was she the woman that everyone thought she was? Who IS that icky fellow that the new Mrs. de Winter finds lurking about Manderley with Mrs. Danvers? Is Mr. de Winter a visitor from another planet? And Manderley, beautiful, beloved Manderley, what will become of it? Does it involve Elvis? (Not all of these questions will be answered in the book, but you will have to read it to find out which ones!)
I think, for the average reader, It's always a crap shoot going back to read the "classics." What was considered witty at the time of writing may be missed entirely today, what was horrifying back then is lame now, the prose can be difficult, the language awkward, etc. I am happy to report that I did not find any of these to be issues with Rebecca unless there was a lot of funny stuff that I missed, but then I wouldn't really know it anyway. The themes of love, loss, feelings of inadequacy, fear, loneliness are all things that are still relevant today, and I thought the story moved along quite well.
Have you read Rebecca? What did you think of it? Has anyone read anything else by Daphne Du Maurier? What did you think?
Check out Nymeth's review at Things Mean a Lot I think her review was the one that finally convinced me that I needed to read this book, and she's got lots of links to other reviews too!