Book: Rebecca by Daphne DuMurier
Date finished: 5/31/11
Rebecca is actually one of my favorite books, and I put it on this year’s reading list because it had been several years since I had read the book. I only reread books I really like, so the fact that I’ve read Rebecca more than once means it’s a good one, at least in my mind.
Rebecca is a mystery/suspense of sorts. You may be familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name, which is a very good treatment of the novel. Rebecca wasn’t the only Daphne DuMurier novel or short story Alfred Hitchcock turned into a movie; The Birds is based off a DuMurier short story and Hitchcock also turned her novel Jamaica Inn into a movie, even if it’s pretty unrecognizable since the movie’s star basically demanded a total rewrite to his character, which pretty much wiped out all but tiny snippets of DuMurier’s original storyline.
In Rebecca, DuMurier writes about Cornwall, the location of most of her writing. The novel follows the story of a young woman(NOT named Rebecca and the unnamed narrator of the story) who meets the dashing older Maxim De Winter in Monte Carlo, where our narrator is living as a companion to a brash American lady. Maxim is a widower, having lost his wife, Rebecca, some months earlier in a boating accident. Of course, the narrator falls head over heels in love with Maxim during a whirlwind courtship (in which he’s always seemed a bit aloof and stand-offish to me), and when she finds out that her employer is leaving for America in the next couple of days and taking the narrator with her, our narrator is distraught. She tells Maxim, they quickly marry, and after a vacation in Italy, he takes her home to his massive estate, Manderley.
But the narrator discovers that for her, Manderley is haunted by the shadow of Rebecca, who seems to be everything the narrator isn’t: well-loved, outgoing, a born lady of the house, beautiful. Add to the mix Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper and a woman who loved Rebecca deeply, and our narrator has an even bigger problem. Mrs. Danvers seems determined to undermine anything the narrator tries to do and is continually telling her that Maxim loved Rebecca more and that she is not the true mistress of the house. The narrator becomes convinced that Maxim really doesn’t love her and that she can never compare to the ghost of Rebecca and the relationship he had with her.
Then, a sunken boat is discovered in the sea behind Manderley. Rebecca’s boat—with her body inside. Because of this, Maxim opens up to the narrator, telling her the truth about his relationship with Rebecca and the kind of person she really was. I won’t ruin the mystery for you, but it’s suspenseful and a good read, if you like English novels in the vein of Jane Eyre.
What I like about DuMurier’s writing in this novel is that she doesn’t ever reveal her cards to you. She leads you along and tells you just as much as she wants you to know and nothing more. She was also very good at writing her “evil” characters, such as Mrs. Danvers—because Mrs. Danvers is creepy, scary, overbearing, and evil, but she also feels very, very deeply and her heart is broken. You get to realize that with the narrator and together, the narrator and the reader, are surprised to find themselves feeling a little sorry for Mrs. Danvers. (But not for long!) I think Daphne DuMurier may have had a bit of a dark outlook on life because none of her novels that I’ve read end truly happily. Most end ambigiously, leaving the reader to put the pieces together. The plot lines don’t necessarily get tied up in neat little bows in any of her novels. They’re messy, full of conflicting emotions, and sometimes, emotionally exhausting—just like life.
So if you need a good suspense/mystery that’s not full of gore and blood, Rebecca may be the perfect summer read for you. After you read it, we can watch the movie together!