On a trip to the South of France, the shy heroine of Rebecca falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower. Although his proposal comes as a surprise, she happily agrees to marry him. But as they arrive at her husband’s home, Manderley, a change comes over Maxim, and the young bride is filled with dread. Friendless in the isolated mansion, she realises that she barely knows him. In every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca, and the new Mrs de Winter walks in her shadow.
On one hand I am ashamed to say that I have waited until my 40th year to read this book, but on the other I am delighted that I did. I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated its brilliance beforehand.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …
I’ll start with the characters. The heroine (we never discover her name) is obsessed at the beginning of the book about being young and inexperienced. It’s mentioned so often that I found myself shouting – We get it! You’re young! But this is necessary as it draws us into her mindset of how every single thing she does is wrong and scrutinised. Also, she is comparing herself to Maxim who is about twenty years her senior. When she reaches Manderley her inexperience shines. It doesn’t even cross her mind that she can tell the servants what to do and is constantly being clumsy and making mistakes. She allows herself to be bullied by Mrs Danvers.
Ah, Mrs Danvers! What a character. Her ‘skull face’ will stay with me forever, the treacherous old bat. We love to hate her and she nearly manages to dispose of the heroine for good. There are a lot of frustrating moments when again I’d be shouting – Just tell Maxim! But what would be the fun in that. Rebecca slowly reveals herself throughout the novel, each piece of information crushing our heroine until the nail-biting climax. These characters will forever be living, breathing, people in my mind.
Du Maurier’s writing style is flowery prose and there are lots of descriptions of nature, the flowers, the Happy Valley, the cove. However, these sometimes in-depth descriptions, are important to the atmosphere of Manderley as a place, and gives it a heart beat of its own.
Rebecca smashed its way into my ‘favourite books of all time’ very short list. I have no doubt I will read this book over and over, but for now I’m nursing a terrible book hangover.