I was unsure whether I could count Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as my fifth Cloak and Dagger read of 2019, but at least it is the February/March book for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club group so I can tick that off.
Then, I read the word ‘mystery’ in a description of the book.
Last night I
dreamt I went to Manderley again…
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.
Review 5 stars
This was a classic that I thought I had read, but I hadn’t. Now I’m glad I did as it’s memorable and worthy of multiple reads.
Although the novel is described as gothic – and by some as a romance – for me it was also a mystery. Its style by today’s standards might be called dated and yet it was ahead of its time – as was the author.
Much of the narration is as chunks of description mixed with reflection and conjecture by the un-named protagonist living in the shadow of Rebecca. In comparison with the title character, this new Mrs de Winter seems naïve, powerless and at the mercy of others. At first, it would be easy to dismiss her – even the novel – without giving either a chance…without understanding the heroine or the shy author.
I grew up in a world not dissimilar to Manderley, albeit one that had lost its glitter but not its attitudes. I felt myself intimidated by scary and overbearing people – especially when I did something wrong. Society and doing the right thing frightened me.
Especially when such amazing people as Rebecca were being fawned over.
Rebecca may be the deceased wife of Maxim de Winter, but she pervades the story, the house and the grounds. She’s on everyone’s lips. It’s a clever device making her so dominant, giving the novel her name, and naming her, not the protagonist. And it works. The reader is fooled along with the new Mrs de Winter into believing the myth – until the doubts appear.
Mrs Danvers, doth protest too much, methinks. She is the archetypal retainer that creates fear and doubts. Rebecca haunts Manderley in one way, Mrs Danvers in another – a brilliant creation, reminiscent of other classic scary presences. A living vampire?
All the characters are distinctive. All reminded me of people I had met – even worked with. The mannerisms felt familiar, whether Beatrice, the loquacious sister, or Frank Cawley, the faithful agent for Manderley. Even Maxim de Winter was real with all his faults and guilt buried.
If I had to befriend just one, it would be Jasper. The dog? Yes, the faithful exuberant spaniel.
One other character enfolds the novel – Manderley. The house becomes character, atmosphere and setting. At first magnificent and untouchable with buried secrets. Manderley fills the narrator’s thoughts, not just the house but the gardens and the sea coves. As the protagonist’s thoughts change so do the descriptions of setting, of home, of the weather, of the vegetation. Or is it vice versa? The weather changes and then her thoughts?
But they are all one, interacting as the plot unfolds – setting and thought and events. The past even before Rebecca. Even before Manderley. The sea and the fog.
Cliffhanging language that I need to immerse myself in again.
Story – five stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Characters – five stars
Authenticity – five stars
Structure – five stars
Readability – five stars
Editing – five stars