Saturday, 8 June 2013

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier


"He belonged to a walled city of the fifteenth century, a city of narrow, cobbled streets, and thin spires, where the inhabitants wore pointed shoes and worsted hose.  His face was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way, and I was reminded of a portrait seen in a gallery."

The unnamed narrator of Rebecca is working as a lady's companion in Monte Carlo when she meets the brooding, recently widowed Maxim de Winter.  Swept off her feet by his quick proposal, she returns with him to Manderly, an impressive estate on the Cornish coast.  But at Manderly, traces of the former Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, seems to be everywhere and she struggles to make an impression of her own.  When she goes for a walk in the rain, it's Rebecca's coat that is given to her and she has to live to Rebecca's schedule but above all, the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Danvers seems unwilling to let the ghost of Rebecca lie.  

I just loved everything about Rebecca.  It was the book chosen for me by the Classics Club spin, and it came from my 'books I am neutral about' list.  Having read the book, I'm now definitely no longer neutral towards it!  I loved the gothic atmosphere, the mystery elements that kept me guessing, the ambiguity of the character of Rebecca and the way things were left sufficiently open at the end that I'm still not sure whether to love or hate Rebecca, myself.

But what I loved most of all was the characterisation of the narrator.  Part of the effectiveness of the mystery is that she suffers with chronic low self-esteem that forces her to put a reading on events that may or may not be the truth.  She's utterly unreliable as a narrator but her journey towards becoming more confident and towards throwing off the shackles of distorted thinking / anxiety, was written wonderfully by du Maurier.  As someone who tends towards the anxious side of things myself, I could complete relate to the narrator and the obstacles she kept putting in her own path.  I was expecting the gothic elements and the mystery, but I wasn't expecting how much insight into human character there was in the story;

"I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.  That is what I had done. I had never had the courage to demand the truth."

Rebecca kept me guessing right until the end.  I thought I had the book all figured out by the middle, but Mr de Winter's confession came as an utter shock to me, so really I didn't have a clue!  I closed the book with more questions than I opened it with, which is always a good sign.  The genius of the mystery lies in that none of the characters are reliable and the morality of them plays with our values.  Is Rebecca before her time, straining against the rules put on women, or is she an evil harpy without human feeling?

I read this book in just two days as I simply couldn't put it down.  It's become a new favourite and one I'm sure I will revisit in the future, to see if I can get any deeper into the mystery.


Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1938
My Edition: Virago Press, 2003
Score: 5 out of 5

Classics Club: Book 10 / 72
My full list is here.

39 comments:

  1. I know that this is the kind of book I will love. It has all the elements of win. It's just that all those other books keep distracting all the time *sigh*. So glad you liked your spin book!

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    1. I was the same, I knew I would like it but just never picked it up to read it. Luckily the CC spin forced me to!

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  2. I need to read this book. Can't believe I haven't. It's almost embarrassing!

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    1. There's a lot of books that I would be embarrassed to admit I haven't read...

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  3. So awesome that you got a book you liked so much for Classics Club! I've been wanting to read Rebecca for a long time, too, and this totally makes me want to snag a copy even more.

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    1. I know, the spin was kind to me. Hope you enjoy it.

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  4. I knew you'd like it! I only read this just a couple of years ago, putting off forever because I thought it was a *romance*, which it isn't. It blew me away how tense and insightful it all was. One of my favourites.

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    1. You were right :)
      I knew it wasn't a romance and I knew I would like it as I love anything gothic, but I still needed that push to actually read it.

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  5. I am glad you love it! I love Jamaican Inn and Frenchman's Creek a lot more. I have 12 books of the virago edition of Daphne Du Maurier novels.

    I better get on to my classic club spin no. 6. It is something I look forward to read too. :)

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    1. I have Jamaica Inn in the virago edition too, that'll be the one I read next :)
      What book did you get from the spin?

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  6. Fabulous review! I also loved this novel for many of the same reasons you've listed. Have you read My Cousin Rachel? It's actually my favourite of Du Maurier's novels (although Rebecca comes awfully close) and I can't recommend it highly enough.

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    1. This was my first du Maurier. I own Jamaica Inn, so I'll probably try that next. But I'll keep a look out for My Cousin Rachel too, thanks for the recommendation.

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  7. Finding a new favorite is the BEST :D I haven't read this one. (Shame!)

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  8. I read this book in junior high (now 67). My U.S. history teacher grabbed it off my desk and said that I was reading junk! Somehow that sticks in my memory! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

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  9. Great review! I loved Rebecca for many of the same reasons you mentioned. I decided to read it after I saw the movie. That's great you found a new favorite.

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    1. I have the movie on my lovefilm waiting list, I'm excited to see if it's as good as the book.

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  10. Yes yes yes! Rebecca is brilliant. My favourite du Maurier is My Cousin Rachel though ;).
    Also - for more Rebecca-ness I thought Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman was pretty awesome :D!

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    1. You're the second to mention My Cousin Rachel, I really must buy it. And Rebecca's Tale is also now on my wishlist :)

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  11. I loved this book! The narrator feels all the pressure of measuring up and of not knowing what really happened. I loved the mystery and the ending! Great review!

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    1. I loved it too :)
      I think we all feel scared we're not going to measure up to something, so it's easy to relate to the narrator.

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  12. I remember how much I loved this book when I read it for the first time! I've reread it a dozen times since -- du Maurier is brilliant at creating the atmosphere in that book. It's so so so creepy.

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    1. I'm sure I will revisit this book in the future. I'm glad I went into my first read knowing nothing about it.

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  13. I am so ridiculously pleased that you enjoyed this book! It has always been one of my favourites and I really wish I could read it for the first time again. I think I had the same experience as you in that I could relate to the narrator and the way she gets in her own way sometimes.

    Have you read any other books by du Maurier? Jamaica Inn is my next favourite of hers. It's equally as creepy and completely unputdownable!

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    1. I'm sure I will reread this but it won't be the same as the first read, not knowing the mystery.
      I own Jamaica Inn, so it's the du Maurier I'll be reading next :)

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  14. I have this book on my shelf. I think that I read it sometime in the distant past, but it may just be that I've heard so much about it and always intended to read it so I just think I did. Either way, I really should take it off the shelf and read it!

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  15. Rebecca is one of my fave classics. My book group are planning on doing and A-Z classics challenge, and several of them had the same waryness about it but I have told them they MUST read it.

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  16. I'm so pleased you enjoyed Rebecca. I thought it was wonderful. A great mix of mystery, suspense and gothic. I agree though one of the most fascinating points is the look into human nature. One of my favourite books. Reading your thoughts makes me want to re-read it right now!

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  17. I love love love this book and you've absolutely made me want to re-read it immediately, so nice work there! I love your conflict over Rebecca herself- I think the first time I read this, I was pretty much like 'What. A. Bitch.' but then the next time I was a lot more conflicted about her and it's SO TRICKY because she's a character who really can't speak for herself.

    Also, your blog looks pretty! It's different, right? I'm not just remembering it wrongly?!

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  18. Ahh, this is such a great read! It's one of those stories where I can't quite figure out whether I like it or resent it? It's just so...it really pulls you in, and I guess there's a bit of both.

    There's also a great Hitchcock adaptation of it! Have you/will you be seeing it?

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  19. I'VE GOT TO READ THIS BOOK! It's been on my stacks FOREVER.

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  20. This is one of my favourite books and I must admit it's because of Rebecca. I don't really like the narrator, but Rebecca's mysteries and her secret life just made it for me. I'm really glad you liked it too, Sam :)

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  21. YAYYYY! I'm so happy you loved it!! :D I was pretty neutral about this book before I read it, but I ended up loving it as well :)

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  22. My dad recommended Rebecca to me a long time ago, and although I've heard praise for it ever since I never picked it up. Something else always comes up. I feel it'll be getting pushed up the list though because of your review.

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  23. God, I LOVED this book. I read it for the first time right before I started my blog, so that must have been just over two years ago. Huh, seems longer.

    I want to reread it already though. I remember loving it and obviously I remember Max de Winter's revelation and also the narrator's poor choice of costume, I think? Wonder why that sticks in my head...

    Anyway, I REALLY want to reread this now, so good job! :)

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  24. I loved the book so much that i hunted down the B&W movie adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock and watched it...Loved everything about the book and the movie though few things were altered in the movie

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