Monday, February 24, 2014

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

I am surprised I had never read Rebecca before, as I did go through a gothic romance period in my younger days. And, boy, is it gothic--there is horror, there is dread, and there is a mysterious dark setting. The nameless narrator is a young British woman who tells the story through a "flashback"--we know bad things happen because she and her husband are living as nomads on the Continent, their lovely home in England destroyed. As her reminisces begin, she is working as a companion to an older wealthy American vacationing in Monte Carlo. When her patron becomes ill, she begins spending time with Maxim de Winter, a desperately sorrowful Englishman whose wife was drowned months earlier near his estate, Manderley. When the young woman's patron decides to return to the United States, de Winter proposes to our naive heroine and, after a short honeymoon in Italy, they return to Manderley.

Our heroine has gained the name Mrs. de Winter (still no first name, never a first name), but she soon realizes that to the denizens of Manderley and other acquaintances of Maxim, that name will always belong to her predecessor, Rebecca. Rebecca was clearly more beautiful, more sociable, more talented, wittier than the new Mrs. de Winter, who skulks around the house avoiding the servants, especially the frighteningly severe housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers came to Manderley with Rebecca and was slavishly devoted to her. Her antipathy towards the new Mrs. de Winter causes a number of problems.

Without revealing too much for the six other people in the world who have not read Rebecca, let's just say that questions arise around Rebecca's death, leading to an investigation and the eventual destruction of Manderley.

While I appreciated how skilfully du Maurier developed the atmosphere of dread necessary to the genre, I found myself annoyed throughout by the utter stupidity of the narrator. Time after time, she makes bad decisions that would have been obvious mistakes to a person with a brain (even a naive person completely out of her depth); she often creates entire nightmarish story lines based on one overheard line, an intercepted look, or even a gesture, sending herself into a tizzy if not an outright faint at the imagined possibilities. In addition, many of the plot developments were predictable.  There was one twist near the end that I had not foreseen, but it was not enough to rescue Rebecca for me.

Favorite passage:
I had build up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth.

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