In this series, we will be reviewing books across a wide range of genres, all related in some form to championing women.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
This is one of the most famous lines in literature ever written, which is where the story of Rebecca begins. A story of two women, one man, and a house. This sounds simple in form, however, this novel is a masterpiece, one I will never forget, and whose characters will never leave me. It reminded me of what a quality piece of literature really is, and after reading hundreds of books (which were not all of quality) I felt hugely inspired by Daphne Du Maurier’s writing style. She opened my mind to new vocabulary, and if you are a fan of thrillers, crime, mystery and dark secrets, this book will be a real page-turner.
Rebecca is the haunting story of a young woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity. The narrator, a young, shy, unsophisticated woman, meets an older gentleman called Maxim de Winter, the owner of ‘Manderley’, a legendary gothic mansion, which creates the perfect setting for the haunting presence of Rebecca – Maxim’s wife who drowned tragically at sea a few years before the book starts. The narrator quickly marries this handsome and rich man, and becomes the new Mrs de Winter (we never learn her actual name throughout the book). After a short honeymoon, she is taken by Maxim de Winter to his renowned mansion, where she becomes obsessed with Rebecca. There, Mrs de Winter constructs in her mind who Rebecca was prior to her unforeseen death, apparently an idealisation of womanhood in looks, intelligence, as a hostess, and as a head of house – a wife she fears she will never live up to.
As the novel goes on, the narrator becomes increasingly irritated from her failed attempts to please both her grumpy, unpredictable husband and the cunning, manipulative head of the household, Mrs. Danvers, a cruel, villainous character. As the narrator moves through the house like a ghost or an unimportant maid afraid to touch anything in its perfect place, Du Maurier infuses each room of Manderley with the strength and beauty of Rebecca. As Sally Beauman writes in her afterword from 2002, “Du Maurier gave her own shyness and social awkwardness to Mrs de Winter and gave her independence, love of the sea, her sexual fearlessness and even her bisexuality to Rebecca.”
There are teasers throughout the story which keep you guessing and speculating, as you begin to suspect that there are dark secrets hidden away. Du Maurier has masterful pacing throughout this book, keeping the reader on tentahooks throughout to create an atmosphere of growing tension and suspense all the way up to the final twist.
Time it took me to read it: 11 hours exactly
Why I picked up the book in the first place: As with so many things in life I came across this book by chance. My mum passed it to me one day, and the fact that I share the same name as the title naturally caught my attention!
Don’t judge a book by its cover: A fascinating facet of this story is the title of the book, which suggests before you begin that you will meet Rebecca at some point in the book. It is a strange concept. We become so familiar and interested in this woman who actually never really manifests nor speaks, instead it’s the house Manderley, the characters who knew her, and the narrator’s obsession with her that keep her alive in the pages.
Rating out of 5: 4 out of 5
Where to get it online: Click here.
The Woman Behind The Book
Daphne du Maurier was an English author and playwright and an extremely interesting character. Born in London, she spent most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for most of her books. Her novel Rebecca was first published in 1938 and has never gone out of print. This book launched her into the literary stratosphere and made her one of the most popular authors of her day. Some of her bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by critics, but their enduring appeal and success has clearly proved this initial reaction competely wrong.
I have to admit that I don’t always bother to read the afterword of a book, but Sally Beauman’s in the 2002 edition I read provides a fascinating insight on Daphne du Maurier’s life.
‘Throughout her [du Maurier’s] life she was torn between the need to be a wife and the necessity of being a writer. She seems to have regarded those roles as irreconcilable. Half accepting society’s (and her husbands’) interpretation of ideal womanhood, yet rebelling against it and rejecting it, she came to regard herself as a half-breed who was unnatural.”
Once you have finished reading the book, this beautiful afterword makes you really appreciate and understand why Du Maurier wrote a story like this, how these characters came to life, and the reality that “Daphne du Maurier was wrestling with her own demons, the two women in the book demonstrate her personal and physiological struggle.”
Written by Rebecca Gache-Ford, Founder of Fanny Pack
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