Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier
1938, 357 pages

This at last was the core of Manderly, the Manderly I would know and learn to love. The first drive was forgotten, the black, herded woods, the glaring rhododendrons, luscious and overproud. And the vast house too, the silence of that echoing hall, the uneasy stillness of the west wing, wrapped in dust-sheets. There I was an interloper, wandering in rooms that did not know me, sitting at a desk and in a chair that was not mine. Here it was different. The Happy Valley knew no trespassers. (p105)
Rebecca is told from the perspective of the second wife of Maxim de Winter as she comes to Manderley with her new husband and slowly unravels the identity of Rebecca, his deceased first wife, whose presence is still felt strongly by the characters in the novel.

Rebecca is a book that I always thought I should read, but was just never able to motivate myself to do it. I remember in high school many of my friends had to read it for english class - one of the english teachers at my school love love loved this book, and so half of my classmates ended up reading it. At the time I felt lucky to not have to read it - I was skeptical of the thick book with the florid red cover. I was surprised to hear from my friends that it was actually really good, which is how it ended up on my "I should read this someday, but not today" reading list.

Once I finally picked it up, I was hooked from the first paragraph, and continued to be completely absorbed for the entire novel. I devoured this book, finishing it in only three days (which is fast, for me). Daphne DuMaurier's writing is beautiful, I often found myself just getting taken away by her words.  Many times I felt myself needing to slow down as I read, to reread a passage in order to fully absorb the language.

This is a rarity for me - I'm usually attracted to books with compelling plots and get bored with books that spend too much time playing around with the language. This wasn't the case with Rebecca, the writing was just beautiful and I completely enjoyed it. Here's (yet another) example of when the language just enraptured me:
The enchantment was no more, the spell was broken. We were mortal again, two people playing on a beach. (p106)
Not that the plot of Rebecca isn't compelling, because it is - why else would I have zoomed through this book so quickly? When I finished Rebecca, I immediately wanted to pick it up again, to see how the events earlier on in the novel would hold up, knowing the ending. This is actually a bad habit of mine - I'll obsessively reread a book or rewatch a movie several times over a short period of time because it's so interesting to me to observe the entire thing all over again, knowing how everything turns out.

I have to say, though, that there were times when I had to put down the book because I was frustrated with the narrator (I was rooting for her to grow a spine for over half the novel), or saw how an aspect of the plot was going to unfold ages ahead of time. I was interested in the plot and it kept me reading because I wanted to see how everything turned out, but in the end I wasn't particularly convinced by the love story between the narrator and Maxim, and I think that's where the book let me down a little bit. It's not that the plot was uninteresting, it's just that the book was so good otherwise that the fact that I wasn't completely spellbound by the plot is the only thing keeping it off of my all time favorites list.

It's strange for me to love a book for its language moreso than the plot, but I think that's what happened with Rebecca. It made me want to read more by Daphne DuMaurier, because I love her writing style, and maybe one of her other novels will be able to capture my imagination more than Rebecca did. I definitely enjoyed this book, and would whole-heartedly recommend it, but it just fell a tiny bit short for me in the end.

I'll leave you with one last quote:
Packing up. The nagging worry of departure. Lost keys, unwritten labels, tissue paper lying on the floor. I hate it all. Even now, when I have done so much of it, when I live, as the saying goes, in my boxes. Even to-day, when shutting drawers and flinging wide a hotel wardrobe, or the impersonal shelves of a furnished villa, is a methodical matter of routine, I am aware of sadness, a sense of loss. Here, I say, we have lived, we have been happy. This has been ours, however brief the time. Though two nights only have been spent beneath a roof, yet we leave something of ourselves behind. Nothing material, not a hair-pin on a dressing-table, not even an empty bottle of Aspirin tablets, not a handkerchief beneath a pillow, but something indefinable, a moment of our lives, a thought, a mood.  (p45)


  1. I read this in high school for an English paper, and loved it! I agree the narrator was a bit timid, but not unbelievably so. So glad you finally read and liked it. :)

    Oh, I read one other book by the same author--can't remember the title--and it wasn't nearly as engrossing.


  2. Ohh, I picked this one up from the library a while ago, though it didn't really hold my attention long enough for me to finish it, probably because I thought the narrator was a bit too timid for my liking. Great review though! :)

  3. This book has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for years! Your review has made me want to dig out my copy and check it out.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  4. Isn't it an incredible book? I know what you mean about the love story - but I think Maxim is supposed to unaffectionate a bit diffident - it's his personality. However, the narrator is a bit pathetic in places and I did want to shake her several times - testament to Du Maurier's excellent characterisation! I think she wants us to get annoyed at them a little bit. Do explore her other books - My Cousin Rachel is excellent too.

  5. Rebecca is such a wonderful book. I've picked up more du Maurier but still haven't gotten around to reading it.

  6. This is one of my all time favorites, and I love to give it as a gift.

    Have you seen the movie version with Laurence Olivier? Really good!

    Nice blog!