Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Mystery, Gothic Romance
80 years after it was first published, Rebecca continues to enthrall millions, being considered one of the literary greats of the 20th century.
Rebecca is the story of a young woman, shy, socially awkward and from a disadvantaged economic background, who marries the wealthy, socially elite, much older Maxim de Winter. Her life changes dramatically and she is thrust into the running of his iconic Cornwall mansion, Manderley. And yet, the married life of the couple is marred by the shadow of the first wife, Rebecca whom everyone revers.
Rebecca is a personal favourite and I read it at a very impressionable age when I was as gauche as the narrator is shown to be. The description of places and the creation of an emotional landscape are techniques that have stayed with me and find a place in my own writing.
Rebecca, the book, is a study of jealousy and power struggle within relationships rather than being a simple romance. It also explores memories and their impact on people and their behaviours.
The story is shaped by the insecurity that the second Mrs. de Winter feels because of the immense popularity that Rebecca enjoyed when she was alive. Rebeca was considered very beautiful, exceptionally talented and warm towards everyone. The jealousy that the narrator feels makes the story meander and she walks through the grounds of the beautiful house, wondering, confused.
Rebecca has had a power over people and even in death she is everywhere in the house and in people’s memories. However, the balance of this power shifts when an inquiry is made into the circumstances of her death. Soon, Rebecca is reviled and is cast as a manipulative woman.
What works well
The book is dreamy and the description so striking that the details stay with the reader. Manderley, the house becomes an iconic house of 20th century literature.
The image of the dead woman is constructed very skillfully so that she is the most impressive and real character of the book.
The cast of the characters is very memorable. One can identify with the insecurities of the narrator, be afraid of the evil Mrs. Danvers, intrigued with Max de Winter’s grief and understand the adulation for Rebecca by the staff of Manderley.
What does not work so well
The effect of the book is unstable and meandering at times for the reason that much of the events are mere speculation by the narrator.
It is a fine story but the murderer is portrayed as a victim through a twisted sense of morality.
In a modern perspective, perhaps the roles of good and bad would reverse for the characters.
This literary masterpiece is a must read for the beautiful places and the psychological dissection of people’s minds.