I’m probably one of the last people to read Daphne du Maurier’s famous suspense romance novel, Rebecca. I’ve known about it for ages and it’s been recommended to me by a lot of people. The book itself was published in 1938, which was a surprise because I always thought it was published sometime in the 1980’s.
Before reading it I had no idea what it was about, except that it was a romance novel that was a little dark. Rebecca, set sometime in the 1930s – I’m guessing, since the author never actually mentioned dates, is the story of a young girl who meets and falls in love with a rich man, twice her age, who had recently lost his wife.
The rich man is the hero of the novel, Maximillian de Winter, and the heroine is the young, naive, inexperienced girl who would eventually become the second Mrs. de Winter, whose name, other than being “lovely and unusual” is never revealed. The titular character, the first Mrs. de Winter, surprisingly never actually makes an appearance in the novel.
The young heroine was an awkward companion-in-training for a loud, obnoxious, American social climber before she met Maxim de Winter while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Maxim de Winter, attractive, refined, and the wealthy owner of the famous estate, Manderley was the last person she ever thought would be interested in her, so imagine her surprise when he asked her to marry him. She thought it was a dream come true. Unfortunately, the novel’s title is Rebecca, and not The Second Mrs. de Winter, so naturally, Rebecca would play a rather crucial role in the book, even though she was already dead at the start of the novel.
Upon arriving in Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter quickly realizes that her husband isn’t really the happy, carefree man she met in Monte Carlo; that servants don’t always accept new mistresses with open arms; that bad memories stay alive long after the dead have departed, and that secrets long buried have a way of resurfacing. In her new life, the young and naive second Mrs. de Winter suddenly finds herself in situations where she would need to mature and grow up fast.
When I started reading Rebecca, my first thoughts were that it was similar to Jane Eyre, with the young heroine resembling Jane, and the rich, eccentric man resembling Rochester. However, I quickly realized that I was wrong, and that the story didn’t resemble Jane Eyre at all.
Though billed as a suspense romance, the suspense wasn’t all that suspenseful and the romance wasn’t all that romantic. I found the relationship between the hero and heroine a bit strained and their dialogue strange and fake. However, because I didn’t know anything about the novel, I was curious to see what it was leading up to. Despite the rambling descriptions of the flora and fauna of Manderley, and the heroine’s internal monologues and imagined scenarios and conversations (which I skipped, to be honest), I was actually able to finish it without getting too bored. Though there were some revelations toward the end that were supposed to be shocking, I found it all a bit cliche and predictable, and I was annoyed by how it ended so abruptly. It ended so abruptly that I actually thought someone had torn up the last few pages of the book (odd that I also felt this way about the ending of the last book I read – and I also thought that was missing its last few pages).
Anyway, I guess I’m glad I finally got around to reading Rebecca, as it is a modern classic after all, but I’m also glad that I didn’t rush to read it when it was first recommended to me years ago. I actually decided to read it because I thought a good old-fashioned suspense romance novel would get me out of my slump. It didn’t, unfortunately, and now I’m back to trying to figure out what book to read next (suggestions are very welcome).
Rebecca (1938) – Daphne du Maurier
Avon Fiction; 380 pages
Personal rating: 2/5