Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I've never read anything by Daphne Du Maurier before because I had always written her off as a romance writer. But then I kept coming across Rebecca in genre lists like 'mystery' and 'suspense' and 'gothic' and I figured it was about time I found out for myself what all the fuss was about. Wow! I had no idea -no idea- what I'd been missing. This is so much more than a romance; it's written as if it were the memoir of a young woman and her introduction into high society. She (we never find out the protagonists name) is shy and nervous at the prospect of being the lady of the manor, but feels she is up for the challenge as long as Maxim, her new, much older, husband is by her side. Well, he kind of is, but mostly he isn't. The cad. He ignores her, leaving her to fumble through all the formalities and social customs of her new position. But we're supposed to feel sorry for Maxim too, because he's still mourning the loss of his first wife, the inimitable Rebecca. Or so it seems . . .

Almost immediately, I picked up on the similarities a couple of contemporary novels have to Rebecca: Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, and Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. Both fabulously atmospheric books in their own right, but not quite the same caliber. Of course Jane Eyre comes to mind too, but that book came almost a hundred years before Rebecca. Did it influence Daphne's writing I wonder?

I simply loved this book. I loved the writing, the descriptions, the atmosphere, the dialogue. The suspense! If I were to rate Rebecca, on a scale of one to ten, it would, hand's down, be a ten.

I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fear of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when one is twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word. pg37

A black figure stood waiting for me at the head of the stairs, the hollow eyes watching me intently from the white skull's face. I looked around for Frith, but he had passed along the hall and into the further corridor. I was alone now with Mrs Danvers. I went up the great stairs towards her, and she waited motionless, her hands folded before her, her eyes never leaving my face. I summoned a smile, which was not returned, nor did I blame her, for there was no purpose to the smile, it was a silly thing, bright and artificial. 'I hope I haven't kept you waiting,' I said. 'It's for you to take your own time, Madam,' she answered, 'I'm here to carry out your orders,' and then she turned, through the archway of the gallery, to the corridor beyond. pg79

Gothic Challenge book #3

7 comments:

Stephanie M. Hasty said...

i have always loved Rebecca...sigh...

Sam said...

I own this one but have always been put off reading it, thinking it will be a stuff romance. After your review, I'll give it a go, it sounds like my impressions are all wrong!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

A favorite book. Have you read Jamaica Inn? also very good.

Trish said...

stephanie - yes, it's one of my favorites now too.

sam - after having finally read this, I have no idea why it has a reputation as a romance. Sure it has some elements of romance, but only, really, in the protagonists imagination. I would classify Rebecca as more of a psychological thriller. In the afterword of the copy I have it describes the critics as

'shunting Du Maurier into the category of romance writer - a category she resented and detested, but from which she was never able to escape.'

If you do get to reading Rebecca, I would love to hear what you thought of it since you have the same initial impression that I did.

diane - thanks for the suggestion! I was wondering which one I should try next. Jamaica Inn it is then.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I recently read Daphne du Maurier's short story collections (an illustrated one!) and I love the dark Gothic feel (and sometimes horror story moments) that she uses. I've not read Rebecca yet, but am planning to - especially after I read the passages you included! :)

couchpotatocritic said...

I would never call Rebecca a romance novel -- it's most definitely gothic and suspense. I saw the Olivier film long before I read the book, but got my hands on the novel during my junior year of high school for my English class.

It's a fabulous books, with Mrs. Danvers taking the award for "Creepy Weird Housekeeper" for the next few centuries. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Trish said...

book chick - I'm eager to get my hands on some of her short stories too. I keep hearing how good they are. I think I saw your review, last fall was it? It did indeed look good and spooky.

couchpotatocritic - ha! yes, 'Creepy Weird Housekeeper' is right! *gah*