Rebecca is one of the most atmospheric, haunting novels I’ve ever read. I was guessing till the final page, I was hooked till the final few words. A modern classic that definitely earns that title.
Probably Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous work, Rebecca has sold over 2 million copies between its publication in 1938 and 1965. The book has never run out of print.
The gothic novel centers around our young narrator, who remains unnamed. Working in Monte Carlo for a rich employer when she meets George Fortescue Maximilian “Maxim” de Winter. The owner of Manderley Estate. After a short courtship, our narrator marries Maxim and they return to Manderley together. At Manderley, Maxim’s first wife Rebecca, who died in a boating accident less than a year before, still haunts the estate. With a housekeeper devoted to the previous Mrs. de Winter and the ghost of her still in every object and room.
“I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end.”
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Those words lead the reader into this gothic novel. And what a way to do so. The story starts from the back end. And that’s something I always enjoy in novels.
From the first page, I was hooked on the prose. Because of the literary descriptions which are stunning. Nothing too fancy or out there, the writing is smooth and subtle to get into. It feels like Du Maurier takes you by the hand and lures you into her book, there’s so much beauty to behold that you will forget to look up until you’re right in the middle of Manderley estate. The pages and chapters fly by. And only then, you start looking around you, noticing how haunted you feel. Looking over your shoulder at every sound, right along with our narrator.
The days move by slowly at Manderley, as we follow our young narrator as she tries to find her place in this big mansion. Among all those employees, a life that she hasn’t known before. With a husband, who is both unemotional and unreachable. A man who intends to keep his secrets, despite the love and devotion of his young wife. And the legacy of the first wife, Rebecca is everywhere. Even the reader can’t escape her.
There’s no turning big point in this book, you just know that there’s a tension growing with every single page. The book gradually gets darker and more haunting. Du Maurier’s build-up is so cleverly done. The beautiful rooms of Manderley slowly start suffocating you. The near sea is a mystery all on its own. You try to find a way to keep steady, to not get too lost in this house. Because it’s creepy and you can’t put your finger on it. But you can’t look away.
And I’m usually quite good at guessing plot, but this book definitely kept me in the dark for a good while!
The characters come alive on the page
What struck me as one of the most amazing things about this novel is the characters. They are well described but keep their secrets. Take Mrs. Danvers for example, the housekeeper of Manderley, who was and still is, devoted to the previous Mrs. de Winter. Along with the narrator, you immediately sense distrust without being able to put your finger on it.
Our narrator is quite naive, and I could really recognize myself in her. Moving from a simple life as a companion to a rich lady, to becoming the main lady of this huge mansion. She needs to adjust but how can you, when the previous Mrs. de Winter is still in every nook and cranny. Still in everybody’s mind?
Even Manderley seems like a living, breathing creature. The rooms telling their own stories, the gardens full of stories, the near water begging you to keep its secret.
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like a 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.”
In short ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I finished the book days ago, but Manderley and its inhabitants still haunt the back of my mind. I’m glad I have a very long backlist to get through when it comes to Daphne Du Maurier. It’s a rare thing to discover a new favorite novel, but I definitely did so with Rebecca. And I’d urge everyone to keep this book a go, it’s an exquisite example of what literature can do.
Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Publish date: August 1938
Publisher: Virago (my edition)
Page Number: 441