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rebecca

most of you probably already know about this book but in case you don’t here is a brief description of the premise:

rebecca is about a woman who marries a widower who apparently can’t get over the loss of his first wife just one year ago.

initially everything seems fine but once they return to his country estate in england the spectre of rebecca starts to loom large. she is ubiquitous – everyone talks about her, the servants seem to have preferred her, the entire house appears to be laid out to her specifications and even the garden is arranged according to her wishes!

our narrator is hugely intimidated and is made to feel very inadequate, but as she learns more about rebecca she begins to realise that something about her doesn’t add up and starts to discover that below her squeaky-clean image there are darker secrets lurking.

charlotte absolutely loves this book, it’s one of her favourites, and she’s been trying to get me to read it for ages. i’ve always put it off ‘cause it just looked way to girly for me! but then i started hearing more and more people talking about it and everyone saying it was very good. so, i thought i had to read it.

this is the cover of charlotte’s hideous edition that i borrowed

still, when i started it i thought, okay, this’ll be a girly book – but it’ll be a good girly book! well, all thoughts of girlyness flew out of my mind as i was captivated from the very beginning! (well, not the very beginning – the first two chapters are told in this disembodied voice from the present which had me a bit lost. maybe I read it too late in the evening or something but it all just went over my head. but yes, once the narrative started in earnest I was completely drawn in).

du maurier’s prose is beautiful-beautiful and smooth as silk. it reads so easily and quickly that you don’t even notice as you fly through the pages. and even though there isn’t much that happens in terms of action the book just seems to rattle along – which is quite a feat with the edition that i had, which had really small print! when i started charlotte pointed out how small the text is and i remember feeling a tad daunted. i know it’s silly, but this is one of the things that sometimes get to me when i read a book and even very good books. if there are too many pages or if the text is too small then it feels like it’s taking me forever to make progress and it’s then that i start to feel demoralised. however, with rebecca this just didn’t happen and that is a testament to how well she writes.

equally as powerful as her prose is the atmosphere she creates within the book. from very early on in the novel there is always this feeling that something going on beneath the surface. i had the impression that there was a mystery and yet the strangest thing was that i didn’t even know what the mystery was! even the mystery was mysterious! now that may sound like a very vague and un-engaging mystery on the surface of it – and it is indeed a very big risk to make things so ambiguous – but du maurier is masterly at drawing you in and making you curious and desperate to find out more!

and – apart from unravelling the mystery – it is also an experience just bathing in it, in the rich eeriness of the story. the novel is full of furtive glances, half-stopped sentences and tantalizing clues lying about for us and the narrator to stumble over.

du maurier also uses a lot of symbolism to create atmosphere – rebecca’s handwriting becomes of immense importance, the way she draws every curve of a letter is representative of her character. the gigantic blood-red rhododendrons, looming, intimidating, and oddly perverse in all their lushness. the sea, waiting, brooding in the west. and the secret cove and beach hut, oddly out-of-synch with the rest of manderley’s orderliness and seeming to be the key into the very heart of rebecca – if the reader can put together the clues.

the characterisation is also very good and all of the characters are believable and highly memorable. along with that the dialogue also had a very real feel – and these two elements, combined with the prose, made the whole book very vivid.

this was one of those wonderful experiences where every time you picked up the book you were transported to another world. every time i read the book i really felt i was there and could see the rich and beautiful country estate that was the backdrop to the novel. and, when i finally closed the book, like our nameless speaker, i too was already missing manderley.

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Categories: books
  1. August 20, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    One of these days I am going to read this book! Glad to see a post from you!

  2. August 20, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    I’ve had this on my to-read list for a while. It sounds like a great read!

  3. August 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Rebecca is excellent, I’m so glad you read it. The copy I own isn’t quite as hideous, but the lettering on it makes it look more like a Harlequin romance than a classic work of literature. Someday I’ll own a really nice copy of this.

    Great review, JP. Rebecca is dripping with atmosphere and it remains one of my favorite gothic classics. I just love the sense of slow dread that builds with the story, and when I read it years….decades….ago I found it a very quick read as well. This is a perfect R.I.P. book and someday I need to reread it.

    One of the many things I love about the book is that she remains nameless, which leads you to speculate as to whether her name was also Rebecca or what it was. Love it. I’ve seen the classic film, which doesn’t follow the original Mrs. Dewinter’s storyline the way the book does, and really like the more recent (many years ago) BBC version that has Diana Rigg playing Danvers.

    I’m so glad you finally overcame your thoughts about what the book ‘might’ be like and dived in. I would certainly recommend The Thirteenth Tale if you haven’t read it for a more contemporary novel that has some of the same kind of atmosphere.

  4. August 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Perhaps I should rethink this novel. Putting it on my list.

  5. August 22, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Hey JP!! It’s been awhile since I’ve been over here!! Glad to see you are doing ok. I liked Rebecca. But truth be told, I’ve liked other du Maurier books better. My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn were both very good too!

  6. August 24, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Wow, I had the same “girly” reaction when I heard about this book, especially because I think I’m familiar with the same Harlequinesque cover Carl mentioned.

    But I’m finally convinced.

  7. jean pierre
    September 2, 2009 at 9:44 am

    yep, guys! i’m making a concerted effort to post a bit more! thanks for still hanging in there with me!

    CARL:

    oh dear! i thought mine was the worst! i can sort of see why they put those covers on, but still – it really is very offputting to some of us!

    i’m so glad you like it too! i thought of you while i was reading it and was sure that if you didn’t already love it that you would if you were to read it. it’s so your thing.

    and you’re right, it’s that mounting (very subtly mounting) feeling of dread that is just wonderful.

    i was a bit at sea with her not being named… i kept on thinking i’d missed something. it certainly works well, though, even though that sort of thing tends to frustrate me! 😀

    i haven’t seen any of the films but hear that there are quite a few decent adaptations of them. charlotte loves the hitchcock one so i am looking forward to that (being a fan of hitch already).

    ooh… “the thirteenth tale”! thanks for the recommendation. let me look it up…

    STEPHANIE:

    ah, good to know! after having read “rebecca” i started looking up her others and i thought a lot of them did look good too!

    SCOTT:

    haha! i’m glad i’m not the only one! oh dear – they really seemed to have designed some howlers as covers for this book!

    my only reservation about the book was that, from a male perspective, the narrator did pity herself a bit too much, when she was feeling inadequate in relation to rebecca.

    charlotte, my wife, didn’t feel it was too much, though and fully identified with her. so it may be a girl thing. i was just thinking “if you feel so bad, why don’t you just up and leave?!” but that was just a 50 page section that happens once you’re well into the novel, so it isn’t really off-putting.

    also, i guess, it very much reflects its time too. in those days, if you were unhappily married or something you just had to suffer through it!

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