Author: Daphne du Maurier
Published: 1938 Pages: 386
Genre: Literary Fiction/Classic
Can you believe that a year ago I'd never heard of Rebecca OR Daphne du Maurier? The book began to creep up on the blogosphere and to be honest I thought it was a cheesy romance novel. It wasn't until my friend Laura read the book that I became really interested, and I quickly added it to my shelf collections. I was so thrilled when Amanda from The Zen Leaf asked me if I'd be interested in doing a buddy review with her this month.
Rebeccabegins when the young narrator (we'll call her Narry) meets a wealthy widow, Maxim de Winter, and an unlikely friendship and courtship ensues. After a few weeks of spending much time together, Narry accepts Maxim's proposal of marriage and they have a quiet ceremony before moving to Manderley. At Manderley, Narry soon realizes that Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, who has drowned in a tragic boating accident, continues to haunt the house and the lives of those left behind. Rebecca doesn't haunt in the traditional sense of the word (no ghosts or anything like that), but the magnificence of her character continually overshadows the meek and innocent Narry. Throughout the novel, Narry is in constant battle with Rebecca's legacy and must fight in order to maintain her rightful place as mistress of the great Manderley.
Amanda and I conversed back and forth about our thoughts on Rebecca. We split our conversation in half, so you can read the first half over at The Zen Leaf (I recommend going now and coming back as our conversation will make more sense that way). We tried to avoid spoilers wherever possible--you can tell below where I start to get a little cryptic and squeamish in trying not to give anything away! I'll start with the last sentence of my part of the conversation just for transition's sake.
Trish: What did you think about the characters in the book? Any that you'll be remembering for a time to come?
Amanda: I agree that Mrs. Danvers is probably one of the most creepy characters I've ever read! Two scenes with her in specific really made me shudder in horror. I think you're right, all the characters were fantastically drawn, but I think Mrs. Danvers and even Rebecca, despite being dead, were the best. It begs to be compared to modern horror books, which don't seem to realize that creepy can be achieved without a lot of blood and guts. du Maurier left so much to the imagination, and used so many psychological tricks on her characters to make them nightmarish, though realistically so. It was just perfect.
Okay - so I have to ask, because I've harped on this in recent reviews - what did you think about the crime aspect of the novel? I don't want to reveal spoilers, so all I'm going to say is that a crime takes place at one point, and the characters are trying to escape justice, and they feel the crime was justified. Do you believe it was justified, and that they were justified trying to escape punishment? I have to admit, even though normally I would automatically answer NO, I really empathized with these characters and wanted them to go free.
Trish: Well, let me put it this way--when I read your paragraph I immediately thought "crime? what crime?!" Does that basically answer your question. Yes, of course a crime was committed and it was a horrible crime. Can it really be justified? I think you start stepping into some pretty soggy ethical ground when you begin debating whether or not the crime should be committed. Look at us dodging these spoilers--if I hadn't already read the book I'd want to now!
You've asked a really great question, Amanda, and I don't think I have the answer. The moral side of me wants to think that there could have been other actions taken before the crime was committed to have prevented the whole mess that occurs in the second half of the book. In the end, though, I just don't think it would have been quite the same if the characters had all been carted off in handcuffs at the end of the book. Throughout the book Maxim exclaims that Rebecca has won--as if the two were in constant battle during their lives together. In the end, do you think Rebecca did in fact win or have the others gained the upperhand?
Amanda: I think in the end, neither really gains the upperhand. In one way, sure, they got away with the crime - but do they ever really go free? They've lost so much, they have such heavy hearts, and with that abrupt end (Agh!!!), you never really know if they recover. The little hints at the beginning of the book say almost nothing. I suppose, in conclusion, I really thought this book was masterfully pieced together. It's ethically grey, it's romantic and tragic both, and there is no clear conclusion. Not to mention the incredible atmosphere we talked about above. I can't wait to read more by du Maurier! How about you? Any final thoughts?
Trish: I think you sum the book and your feelings up really well. I was a little concerned going into the book that there would be a lot of heavy imagery and that the story would be a little dull (those first two chapters were a beating!), but in a word this book was exciting. At any given point du Maurier only allows you to have just one little piece of the puzzle so that things slowly begin to come together, but she withholds a lot from the narrative in order for readers to make up their own minds with what happens. And like you said, this book really is a psychological thriller. I love that there are still questions left at the end--Rebecca really is a haunting book. I'll definitely be reading more du Maurier in the future and am glad to have discovered her.
Don't forget to check out the "beginning" of our conversation over at Amanda's. And if you've never been over there--shame on you. You'll love both her and her blog. :)
Have you read Rebecca? What did you find creepiest about this book? Do you think psychological thrillers are more frightening than the blood and gore type of thrillers or do those scare the wits out of you, too?