Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca! I was going write that I can't believe I haven't read this but that's not exactly accurate. In fact I've purposely avoided this because I wasn't sure I was going to like it. I'm not sure where I got that idea from because I discovered as I was reading it that I actually knew very little about it! And it was a totally misguided opinion because once I'd started this I couldn't put it down.

The first chapters of the novel describe Manderly in all its glory, but then flick to as it is now, which is when we first realise we are starting at the end of the story. We then move on to learn that Mr and Mrs De Winters are living a completely dull, boring and mundane life in exile, and that that seems to suit them. It's a strange start for a book, but pervades the whole story, as we always know how it ends.

Narrated by the second Mrs De Winters, Rebecca is the first, and although never alive during the novel, she does play a crucial part. We are never told our narrator's name, although we are told it is an unusual name and its chosen by her father. When we first meet our heroine, she is working as a companion to a rather snobby old lady, staying at a hotel in Monte Carlo, where she meets Maximillian De Winters. As she has to be obedient to Mrs Van Hopper's desire, she doesn't really get to speak to him, until Mrs Van Hopper goes down with flu, so are narrator is left to our own devices. After a rushed marriage, the couple return to Manderly, Maxim's ancestral home which is when it all starts to go wrong.

Mrs De Winter immediately starts to feel that Rebecca is still present in the house, both through Max's attitude towards her, and the attitude of the staff, particularly Mrs Danvers. She starts off trying to keep everything the same in an attempt to appease the staff and not cause friction, but this policy of appeasement soon starts to grind her down, and it seems that everyone she meets is comparing her negatively to Rebecca, and Mrs Danvers meddling convinces her that Maxim feels this too.

Even with this as the basic storyline this would be an interesting story, but obviously there is more to it than that. Unfortunately, I can't say much more without giving the plot away. There may be someone who hasn't read this yet! Suffice to say, Rebecca's death not as simple as it seems, and neither was her relationship with Maxim.

There is another important character in this story, and that is Manderly itself. The house plays a central role in the story. It's role in the community, and Max's desire to perpetuate this leads to his marriage to Rebecca, so therefore ultimately to his fate at the end of the story. It's also a gothic mansion, and the wonderful descriptions only add to the ominous tone throughout the book.

I think the most interesting comment I can make about this book is that the title refers to a woman who is dead by the time the story starts. Far from being the deceased wife of Maxim, gradually, receding into history, she seems to become more and more central to the life of the present Mrs De Winters as the story progresses. From what we learn about her from the various characters, the two Mrs Winters are set up as complete opposites, and it certainly wasn't clear to me where my sympathies lay. Rebecca is feisty, and obviously used to getting her own way and from what Maxim says about her to his second wife, not especially pleasant. But since the second Mrs Winters doesn't question him about this at all, and just meekly accepts his version, we never really get both sides of this. Which brings me nicely to my major issue with his current wife. After hearing a full confession from her husband, her only concern is that he does love her after all. She has no moral or ethical concerns at all.

Two very different women, and I think they are both opposite extremes. And neither of them reach a happy end from this. Rebecca obviously dies, and Mrs De Winters stays married to Max, but as the first chapters show they end up in a kind of living death, away from Manderly, which is Maxim's first love.
Quite simply, I loved this. My reaction when I'd finished it was that I wanted to go and read it again, especially in the light of the revelations in the second half of the novel. I did resist, but I will read it again fairly soon. I'd also like to read more by Du Maurier, so if anyone can recommend what to read next, that would be good! If not, I'll just pick one at random!


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I'm really pleased you enjoyed this book. It is moving closer to the top of my pile every day. Thanks for a great review.

Dot said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed this, it's my favourite book! My Cousin Rachel is also an excellent Du Maurier book.

Paperback Reader said...

Rebecca is one of my favourite books and I am glad to read that you liked it.

Anonymous said...

My Cousin Rachel is definitely my favourite Du Maurier, closely followed by The House on the Strand. her short stories are excellent too.

jacqueline said...

Try My Cousin Rachael next but all her books are really good and as Fleur says so are her short stoies (and I usually don't read those very much!)