Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has been a book that I’ve seen around for many years, and I’ve been recommended to read it by countless people. I always assumed that the book would be a bit eerily, gothic which didn’t prompt me to pick it up sooner.
However, the latest movie adaptation starring Lily James and Armie Hammer released this month, and I was really motivated to read the book before watching the Netflix adaptation. And I am so glad I did.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is an amazing piece of fiction. I was hooked right from the start, and kept hooked till the very last page. I won’t lie, I was confused when the book ended, because I assumed there would be more.
“A dreamer, I walked enchanted, and nothing held me back.”
Reading Rebecca put me in trance, as the writing, scene setting, and the overall mood the story puts you in, is such a rare experience. And I won’t deny there were a few problems I had with this book, some that can be blamed to the time they were written – as it was published in 1938 – but I still will call them out.
But coming to the story of Rebecca, it starts with the main narrator – who’s name we never know – talking about Manderley, and reminiscing about some sad event that happened with her and her husband Maxim over there. The estate it is quite literally the heart of the story and a character in itself.
“The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”
However, we soon go to Monte Carlo where the narrator first meets Maxim, a man in his 40s, widowed and quite rich. The narrator is a companion of an American lady, and is quite low on the social ladder. But soon enough, she and Maxim meet each other off and on, and a quick romance leads to a marriage.
“Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.”
Maxim takes his second wife, back to Manderley, where our narrator is thrown into the workings and lifestyle of the estate that is starkly different to their time in Monte Carlo and their honeymoon in Europe. She is introduced to Mrs. Danvers – the housekeeper – who’s icy cold demeanor makes our narrator not only nervous but timid as well.
“…the routine of life goes on, whatever happens, we do the same things, go through the little performance of eating, sleeping, washing. No crisis can break through the crust of habit.”
As the days go on, she can see how much of Maxim’s first wife: Rebecca, is everywhere in the house, and Mrs. Danvers doesn’t miss a beat reminding her of it, through her implicit ways. Slowly, many things unfold when Maxim’s sister Beatrice and Frank the agent of the estate, unravel the relationship Maxim and Rebecca had, and how it came to end.
“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.”
When the truth of Rebecca’s death comes to life, the narrator’s time in Manderley starts to come to an end, in the light of startling revelations, we come to know the dark side of everyone at Manderley, and the many secrets the estate has been hiding.
“I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone.”
Rebecca is a story where you’re instantly put in an eerie, chilly mood, where the sun hasn’t shined in a few days, and an imaginary fire on its last embers is trying its best to keep you warm. The fire fails, unfortunately. But the book stays in your mind for a long time.
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
I found the character of Maxim, very patronizing, sexist and a bit pedophilic to be honest. The age gap between the narrator and Maxim isn’t clearly defined but it could be anywhere between 15-20 years. And so his behavior towards the narrator is many times rude and cruel towards her.
The supposed romance of this book, didn’t work for me, and that line “…I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.” Didn’t seem romantic or sweet in any way to me.
Secondly, the character of Beatrice and her husband dress up as Arabs for a costume dinner party, where they act like typical Orientalists. This is important to mention as when Daphne du Maurier was writing this book, she was living in Egypt and clearly this reflects her own opinions about Arabs and the culture.
There is a mention of black face as well, and the general musings of the character about the clothing being so light and freeing, is not only condescending but racist as well. And again, that didn’t sit right with me, and although back in 1938 racism wasn’t called out as quickly and rightly in 2020, it still is racism, and someone will have to call it out.
Other than that, the main standout of the book for me is undoubtedly the estate, the mansion: Manderley.
It is everywhere, it is behind every motive, every deception, and the reason behind the undoing of all the characters. And throughout it all, Manderley stands tall and sombre, like a tree a hundred years old. It almost felt ironic, how the house has seen the story played out a thousand times before, yet it lets the parties, the teas, the lunches, and everything go on, while being a witness to all the complexities and manipulative schemes of the people that come and go, and live there.
Reading Rebecca, definitely made me want to go up and visit the house. Plus the flowers, oh my, the mention of flowers and the sea are so vivid and beautiful. Maurier’s atmospheric description of the place are so stunning and beautiful, a stark contrast to the dark story which almost makes it a paradox.
I literally cannot gush enough about Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier enough, not because the romance, the mystery or the struggle is what gets you hooked, but the story in itself is so captivating and thrilling, you want to know what happens next. Each chapter leaves you with questions, and you want to know the answers.
And honestly, the ending is such a cliff hanger, open ending, and absolutely iconic. It ties to the first line of the book, perfectly, and brings the story full circle in my opinion. Nonetheless, Rebecca is a captivating story, and with its issues that I’ve mentioned above, I would still recommend it. And I will definitely want to read more books by her.
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 4.0/5.0
- Favourite quote: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
- Should you read it: If you love gothic novels with mystery and chilliness in the air, then yes. You’ll love it.
- Reader level: It is easy. You may end up looking up the variety of flowers mentioned but other than that, it is easy to read.
- Would I read it again: I will, I’ll read the paperback.
Till next time,