Published: 1938 (this edition- 1971)
‘Rebecca’ is the story of a young bride who feels overshadowed by the memory of her husband’s first wife, who died in a mysterious accident. I was looking forward to starting this novel as a fan of the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation. Happily, it did not disappoint. As soon as I turned the first few pages of the novel it became apparent that it is not only the first iconic sentence that is beautifully written. Susprisingly, ‘Rebecca’ is a literary masterpiece that also manages to be a definite page-turner. It is a rare, but pleasant feeling, to begrudge putting down a book so much so that the only way it could be improved would be if it were longer.
One thing that made me a little nervous about the novel was how having a main character whose Christian name is famously unknown would translate on a page. I felt that this may have left me feeling unattached from ‘The Second Mrs de Winter’, though in hindsight I needn’t have worried. Having such a shy narrator gave the story a unique narrative style, and I found her husband Maxim a strangely charming character from the off. I liked the fact their love story was unusual and devoid of the sloppiness often found in the romantic genre, perhaps due to the air of awkwardness Du Maurier wished to give her narrator. If you, like myself, are shy yourself you will identify with the feelings of not fitting in or being ‘good enough’. The audience is intended to like the narrator and express their sympathy when she feels overshadows by the vivacious Rebecca. The very fact the presence of Rebecca’s character is felt so prominently throughout the novel is an example of why Du Maurier is such a masterful writer. Many authors would have struggled to convey the presence of a long-dead character. This process is helped by the character of Mrs Danvers, the frightful housekeeper at Manderley (the de Winters’ iconic home), who remains devoted to Rebecca. We can tell from the off that Mrs Danvers means our protagonist naught but ill, a feeling which is built upon as the novel progresses. It is easy to identify with the narrator’s awkwardness around Mrs Danvers. One further has sympathy for the narrator’s despair at being constantly compared to Rebecca whilst also wishing she could be more like her predecessor. Due to my sympathy for the narrator, it was quite pleasant to see the revelations unfold about the darker side of Rebecca’s character that can be found later in the novel. I further found myself hating Favell from the moment he entered the story.
One of the best aspects of ‘Rebecca’ is its beautiful description, particularly of Manderley. The house seems foreboding before we are even aware of its backstory, and the first time it is described lives up to this feel. Du Maurier is able to effortlessly create suspense at many points in the novel. Anyone who loves the film will be happy to see that the novel is no less suspenseful, even when one knows the story. On a happier note, the entire book is quintessentially British and is thus a must-read for anyone who loves Britain or wishes to learn more about its culture. ‘Rebecca’ really is a book a reader can get happily lost in. It is fascinating to see how Manderley is considered a local status symbol, meaning a show of happiness must be put on regardless of how its inhabitants really feel. My one criticism of the entire book would be that its ending could have been more dramatic, although this can be attributed to Du Maurier wishing to be subtly unnerving rather than overly dramatic. To sum up this review: ‘Rebecca’ is a masterpiece.
Rating: ****.5 (4.5/5)