Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is yet another book on the list I’d never read. It’s a haunting book I found. The narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter, tells us how she met her husband and how, as she returns with him to his property in England, she is haunted in a way by his first wife Rebecca who drowned a year before. The deceased seems to still inhabit the house and the new bride feels like a guest, a fraud.
It’s a book that’s written in the first person and not once are we told the name of the main character. She is “I”, “Madam”, “the bride” or “Mrs. de Winter”. Throughout the book the contrast between the new Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca is obvious. And it haunts the reader in much the same way it haunts the main character. She finds herself imagining what people say of her, comparing her with Rebecca with every word, every look.
So our main character is a young woman who is shy, humble, a little awkward in her own skin. We can relate to this state of thing: she truly feels like a teenager more than a young woman in her twenties. That awkward moment when one lingers on the edge of adulthood but not quite sure whether to take the step. At the same time, this constant sense of inadequacy makes her not entirely likeable. She seems more in awe of her husband than in love and then even when she isn’t, her love takes a weird form: there’s one expression she uses twice which is “I wanted to be his wife, his mother.” That seems weird to me.
The entire cast of characters also seems to be haunted by Rebecca: at first, we’re given to understand she was charismatic, beautiful, gifted in pretty much everything she did. She has left a profound impression on everyone at Manderley and its surroundings: from the servants to the people they entertained. They do compare the second Mrs. de Winter to Rebecca in every single way, and we feel in much the same way as our narrator the judgment, the comparison.
Everything about the house also seems to be a shrine to Rebecca.
It eventually takes a shocking event for things to unravel really fast: really the first 300 pages are oppressive with the main character’s fear of Rebecca and of her messenger in the world Mrs. Danvers, who really is a bully and evil somehow. And then we learn how she died and everything seems to unfold, as we’re told – we guessed from a few comments and choices of words from the author – that she wasn’t that perfect a woman. That in fact she was quite awful, a dark soul. Suddenly, the pace speeds up and the anxiety that comes with an investigation.
In that crisis, the new Mrs. de Winter finds herself, finds her strength and gives it to her husband.
All in all I found the book terribly sad and depressing, oppressive too. There were things I guessed, but mostly we’re misled: we’re given some information that led me to assume some things that were only partially true. I think the genius of the book lies there: partial truths, partial clues that lead you on the path to the solution but not quite.
It is less a romance than a psychological thriller in some ways. You even have the gothic kind of feel to it that makes it darker. I really enjoyed the plot and the story even if I found the lead character weak: I know it’s on purpose to enhance the differences and contrasts between her and Rebecca. They’re opposites really. But because the lead character still feels too much a victim of circumstances and she never takes charge, it didn’t blow my mind.
I understand Rebecca is a classic; I can’t say I read it with pleasure, it’s not really a pleasant book. It was well written and in its own way spell-binding. I did want to know if my guesses were right – a bit like when reading Agatha Christie – but I don’t know if I’ll re-read it (unlike a few of the previous books from this challenge I’ve read so far).
Have you read Rebecca?
What did you think of it?