Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: REBECCA, by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. This edition published 1971 by Avon Mass Market. Fiction.

How can you review a book like Rebecca? First of all, it's an essential of modern literature; there are so many allusions made to it in other books, not to mention television and movies, that reading it is now a basic component of cultural literacy. Secondly, it's just a stunner of a book.

Think of it as the anti-Jane Eyre. A poor girl, obscure and friendless (and nameless throughout the book), falls passionately in love with an older, wealthy man, who dotes on her and whisks her away to wed. He takes her to his home, the lavish estate of Manderley, where little by little the charmed life he has offered her shows itself to be cursed. Maxim de Winter, the owner of Manderley, was married before, to the gorgeous and charismatic Rebecca, now dead. Everyone worshipped Rebecca, or so it seems, especially the preternaturally creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who goes to outrageously sadistic lengths to undermine the new Mrs. de Winter. Maxim has a secret about his dead wife, one that will come to light, whatever the cost.

This novel absolutely blew me away. The writing is lush and dense, deeply descriptive and highly charged. No Jane, Mrs. de Winter is so insecure and timid that she allows the house and the staff to treat her like another piece of furniture, and an unwanted one at that.  The house is like a living creature; the gardens and ocean and beach and trees and lawns close us, and the narrator, in like a box. The result is claustrophobia; we have nowhere to hide, just like Mrs. de Winter has nowhere to hide from the memory of Rebecca.

I found the book to be riveting, as well as deeply disturbing. Max de Winter is not a reliable historian of his marriage and it was shocking to me that the narrator was willing to accommodate him as she does. But the book wouldn't be as powerful, in a way, if she were not so weak, and her character is an essential component of the narrative. So there. So anyway, if you haven't read Rebecca, you really, really need to. It won't take long, because you won't be able to put it down.

I reviewed the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation here on my film blog. Spoiler alert- it's awesome!

Rating: BUY, OMG BUY!

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.