"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