Du Maurier, Daphne (Pan, reprint 1975 (orig 1938), ISBN 0 330 24709 3)
About three years ago I lent some of my favorite books to a friend who wanted to read more. I included Rebecca (I have the version as shown, I bought it some time in the 80s) amongst other incredibly excellent books. After some time she gave them back and said she’d not really enjoyed them.
“You read literature, I don’t”, she said.
It took me a long while to work out that what she meant was almost all my favorite books are to some level bitter sweet, or they don’t always have a particularly happy ending, or they often end with major plot points unresolved. This is unlike airport novels or thrillers or vampires or chicklit. Nothing wrong with vampires or Chicklit mind, it’s just not the sort of reading I generally enjoy. I am all for everyone liking what they like. I am often lent books by people who insist I will like it for some false reason – they are usually very wrong: “Try Game of Thrones. It’s historical!” I have my own tastes – I dislike fantasy about the same level that I dislike country music, which is considerable. Different genera have different feelings they give you and you can like them or not. Science fiction = Yes. Fantasy = makes me want to get stabby and punchy. Literature by women authors who are brilliant = yes. Chicklit and romance = no. Slushy airport novels – ok I enjoyed the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nice pacey read!
So -spoiler alert!- Rebecca is not a happy romance that ends well. If you want hand holding – well that is in there. If you want a brooding ‘romantic’ hero or heroine…well. Brooding, sure, lots of brooding. Want to read a book by someone who probably has Anxiety and really low self esteem but you also like or at least feel empathy for? Sound ok but not great? It’s great! Read it for the descriptions of the breakfasts and the dinners and all the teas. Read it for the story, which is tragic and small and petty and great all at the same time. Read it because Daphne du Maurier is a genius – she wrote The Birds, too and Frenchman’s Creek (also a favorite of mine). I wish I could erase my memory and read it all again from scratch and not know what happens ( I want to do the same with Farscape too!)
Though part of the joy of rereading this gem is the anticipation is knowing what is coming. “I am Mrs de Winter now…”
The whole book is a flashback that unravels slowly and the pieces fall in together. And rereading it you see everything that the protagonist totally missed and you did too the first time around.
If you’ve not seen the 1940 movie, too, watch that and then do a google search for Mitchell and Webb’s Rebecca skit, or else the Big Train Rebecca skit. I saw the movie first so the book was not really a surprise when I first read it but the wealth of detail in the book really was. It dacks on the movie.
I still love the movie.
Another Rebecca gem in current popular literature is Jasper FForde’s Thursday Next series (starting with The Eyre Affaire), in one of the later books, the heroine of the series is chased by a parachuting army of Mrs Danvers’.