Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Classic Literature
Rating: 5 stars
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“We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic - now mercifully stilled, thank God - might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion as it had before.”My Thoughts
― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."
With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten, a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house's current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim's first wife the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca. (Goodreads)
Rebecca is a book that will last throughout the ages; it's that good. In fact, when I was reading this, everyone I mentioned it to kept saying that they had read it and loved it (including my boss). So what took me so long to finally read it? I have no idea. There's just no excuse.
Rebecca is not a horror story, but it has just enough creepy factor to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It's a haunting read, and I marvel at how successful Maurier was at frightening readers without a single ghost. In Rebecca, the dead are at peace; they are at rest. It's the living that suffer from the memories of the deceased. Our protagonist is the second wife of Maxim de Winter, and she finds it difficult to replace her dead predecessor when Rebecca's presence is felt everywhere. The servants act as if the first Mrs. de Winter is still alive. Everything is kept the way Rebecca liked it, including the menu and flower arrangements. Her bedroom is still just as she left it, as if she simply stepped out for a walk and is coming back. It's almost as if Manderley is stuck in time, resistant to any change and waiting for Rebecca to return.
Then there's our unnamed protagonist who is not even worth giving a name. Some readers might find it frustrating that we never learn the second Mrs. De Winter's first name, but I thought it was fitting. The title of the book is Rebecca, and the main focus is on remembering Rebecca, which is a different experience for each individual. Her death has left a gaping hole behind, and the protagonist is flailing at the edge, trying to not fall in. Whenever we are given hints of the protagonist's personality, it's in relation to Rebecca. She doesn't have an identity independent of the late Rebecca as she is constantly living in her shadow, trying to fill her place, only to learn it's impossible to do so. Rebecca is an enigma, a puzzle to solve, while the protagonist's personality is straightforward. Luckily, she does develop as a character, or the book would have been missing some much needed progression.
My favorite, and least favorite, character is the servant Mrs. Danvers. She is the bogeyman of this book. She is a phantom that lurks in the shadows, always watching, always listening. She was dedicated to Rebecca, and maybe even a bit obsessed, and she ensures that the protagonist does not feel comfortable in her role as lady of the house. Whenever things are looking up for the protagonist, Mrs. Danvers suddenly appears and crushes all of her hopes and happiness. All she needs is red demon eyes and claws. I found Mrs. Danvers to be a very convincing villain because she wasn't all bad. There were definitely shades of gray, and I found myself almost pitying her at times. Rebecca's death left her broken and drowning in despair so I tried to understand why she desperately clung to the old ways.
As for Manderley, the house itself is almost a character, alive and filled with memories, while at the same time it is a shadow of its former self. Manderley possesses a dark beauty, a beauty that depends on the memories attached to its many sights. In Rebecca, the loveliness of a charming cottage is tainted by the past. The sea is as treacherous as it is stunning. Manderley holds memories within its walls that haunt all of its inhabitants, but I couldn't help falling in love with Maurier's detailed descriptions of the house. I wanted to explore every inch of that house and see it to come to life. I especially wanted to visit the gardens and the Happy Valley after reading all about the flowers and their intoxicating scents. Manderley may have had many dark secrets hidden within its corridors, but I was still enchanted by its beauty.
Rebecca was such a thrilling, suspenseful read with dark twists and gut wrenching developments. There was no end to the gossip and intrigue, and I definitely sympathized with the protagonist after all she had to endure. I was considering watching the movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, but I'm not a fan of old movies. I'd recommend this book to pretty much anyone because it's fantastic and a classic that will survive the passage of time.