Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Fiction, classics, mystery, gothic, romance
Where I got the book: I purchased this book at Norli.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: While on holiday in Monte Carlo, a young woman working as a lady’s maid meets the wealthy and 20 years older widower Maxim de Winter. Their meeting leads to a sudden marriage proposal and, after their wedding and honeymoon, she goes to live with him at his beautiful country estate Manderley in Cornwall. However, the memory of Maxim’s late wife Rebecca dominates the house, the staff, the visitors, and soon also the new Mrs. de Winter. Though dead for almost a year, Rebecca’s lingering presence threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
“Men are simpler than you imagine, my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.”
– Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
This novel turned out to be nothing like expected and it pretty much ended up taking me completely by surprise. I went into it more or less blind and thought this was going to be a slow, boring romance about moving on, turning things around, and maybe finding happiness. It kind of is but in a far more twisted way than I imagined.
The story started out a bit slow for me. The ending is actually revealed to us already from the start, but I don’t think it grabbed me enough to realize the significance. I got more caught up in the fact that I didn’t find the story itself very engaging. On top of this, none of the main characters were particularly interesting to me and I really couldn’t care less about the whirlwind romance. A young, naïve woman being swept away by a wealthy, dashing, middle-aged widower? Ugh. It’s only when the narrator arrives at Manderley and tries to settle in as the new Mrs. de Winter that things start to take a different turn, and it does so gradually. The story becomes more and more layered and the plot starts to unravel in a way that opens up for the unexpected. These changes just creep up on you to begin with, as if they’re hiding in the darkest corners of Manderley just quietly staring at you. You slowly start to suspect that things are not the way they seem until you’re suddenly introduced to a series of twists and turns and you find it impossible to put the book down.
The narrator is not exactly described as a very strong woman; she’s timid, clumsy, and anxious. I have to say that I did find some of her reactions to be rather unrealistic and honestly disappointing, both in the beginning and later in the book. Plenty of times she also drifts off into daydreams, or imagines a bunch of “what if”s where she spins entire hypothetical (and mostly negative) scenes and conversations out of nothing, and as much I genuinely sympathize with that it really got on my nerves how often she did this. However her character grows and matures a lot throughout the novel. I also didn’t mind that we never get to know the narrator’s name; I’ve read other books that use this device and enjoyed them. And in this case I also think the lack of a name nicely reflects her lack of self-confidence and self-worth. On the other hand, I didn’t care much for her husband, Maxim de Winter. He’s not so much mysterious and intriguing than he is just distant, whiny, and moody. Maybe that was the point, but to me he’s a man who talks down to his new wife and who ultimately fails to make me sympathize with him. His story is of course gradually revealed along with everything else but I found I didn’t root for him or really care at all what happened to him.
All that said, one of the things that I really loved about this novel, besides all the intriguing and surprising plot twists, is how well-written and entirely present Rebecca is, even though she’s dead. It’s amazing how complex her character is; she remains interesting and mysterious and makes you wonder what her role in all of this is and what really happened to her. She doesn’t only dominate the house and everyone in it but also the reader, and many of the book’s themes are brought up as we gradually get to know her. You can see it as a book about love and marriage and the pursuit of happiness. It’s about gender roles, the struggle of adjusting to society and social class, and about the power of memory and the past. But you can also see it as a really dark book about death, jealousy, lies, and sex and sexuality. Combined with all of this, the one thing that really made “Rebecca” one of my new favorite novels is that the plot is female-centered at its core. Sure, Maxim de Winter and Manderley itself are central to the story, but it’s focused mainly on the late Mrs. de Winter, the new Mrs. de Winter, and their struggle for power, autonomy, and identity. I also really loved the ending, which is an ending many might have an issue with, but I thought it was perfect. You’ve been foreshadowed but it still manages to shock you. I definitely recommend this novel if you’re interested in a dark and well-written gothic mystery full of the unexpected.