Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Don’t you LOVE it when you read a classic novel and it turns out to be AMAZING?  And you wonder what on earth took you so long to pick it up?  My first book for the RIP Challenge is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book that many of you have read and loved and one I have been meaning to read for quite some time.

517mee7CTTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Romantic, that was the word I had tried to remember coming up in the lift.  Yes, of course.  Romantic.  That was what people would say.  It was all very sudden and romantic.  They suddenly decided to get married and there it was.  Such an adventure.  I smiled to myself as I hugged my knees on the window seat, thinking how wonderful it was, how happy I was going to be.  I was to marry the man I loved.  I was to be Mrs. de Winter.  It was foolish to go on having that pain in the pit of my stomach.

 

For those who haven’t read it, here’s the (very brief) synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

When we first meet our heroine, we know that she is the wife of Maxim de Winter, and we know that something ominous has happened to their former home, Manderley.  It’s in the third chapter that we learn how the nameless second Mrs. de Winter came to be married to the much older, richer, and more sophisticated Maxim. From the get-go she is full of self-doubt and anxiety about her relationship with Maxim.  He is not exactly a reassuring figure, and we learn early on that he is tortured by something traumatic in his past having to do with this previous wife.  Mrs. Van Hopper, the lady our unnamed heroine serves before she marries Maxim, tells her that Rebecca drowned in a tragic boating accident a year before.

Once our heroine is at Manderley, she is adrift in the role of mistress of the manor. Echoes of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife, are everywhere, from the rhododendrons outside and the treasured pieces assembled in the morning room to the rhythms of housekeeping and the daily routine.  Our poor heroine doesn’t even get a tour of the whole mansion from her new husband, nor does he give her any hint as to how to run the household.  Add to that the severe, malevolent head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was unnervingly devoted to Rebecca and it’s no wonder our poor heroine is terrified of making the wrong move and feels that all the staff are laughing at her inexperience.

After a bit of a slow start (really just the part before she marries Maxim,) I devoured this book.  I loved how timeless it felt.  I loved the slowly building atmosphere of tension and suspense, from the opening dream sequence chapter to the momentous costume party and beyond.  I found our unnamed narrator to be incredibly sympathetic.  How many of us have been in love with someone who didn’t match our intensity, who continually disappointed us and left us wanting, but we were desperate to hang on to him, so we forgave and made excuses again and again?  I loved the plot twists that kept coming in the second half of the novel.  At one point my jaw literally dropped; I looked at my husband sitting next to me on the couch and said, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t see that coming!”  I absolutely loved the writing.  The dialogue sparkled and the detailed description of the house and the grounds made Manderley come alive.  I loved this description of the library when our heroine first sees it:

Whatever air came to this room, whether from the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself, one with the books, musty and never read, one with the scrolled ceiling, the dark paneling, the heavy curtains.

It was an ancient mossy smell, the smell of a silent church where services are seldom held, where rusty lichen grows upon the stones and ivy tendrils creep to the very windows.  A room for peace, a room for meditation.

Our heroine is not just a young, naive dunderhead, however; she continued to surprise me with her contemplative observations on life, such as this one when she meets Maxim’s grandmother, Beatrice, for the first time.

I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people.  Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe.  I was a child yesterday.  I had not forgotten.  But Maxim’s grandmother, sitting there in her shawl with her poor blind eyes, what did she feel, what was she thinking?  Did she know that Beatrice was yawning and glancing at her watch?  Did she guess that we had come to visit her because we felt it right, it was a duty, so that when she got home afterwards Beatrice would be able to say, “Well, that clears my conscience for three months?”

I have deliberately avoided writing about anything that happens in the last half of the book because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  But Rebecca is an absolute gem.  It’s quite possibly the perfect book for chilly Autumn nights.  It’s an exciting, suspenseful mystery layered within a atmospheric, Gothic romance.  I am eager now to read more of Daphne du Maurier’s novels – I had no idea she’d written so many!  And when I publish this post I’m going to pop in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie version with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.  I’m excited to see how it compares!

Have you read Rebecca or seen the film?  What is a classic novel that it seems everyone else has read but you?  What makes you choose to read a classic rather than a newer book?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

43 thoughts on “Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

  1. Great review Laila…..I am a fan of du Maurier and got some of her books during a recent shopping spree. However, I saw the movie Rebecca before getting a chance to read the book and I am torn as to whether I should still read the book or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laila, thank you for this post. Classics have always intimidated me, so I joined the I-hate-classics club. But your review seems to give me some confidence. Maybe, I should try reading this book with an open mind. I don’t remember a classic I enjoyed. No. I think I loved ‘The Secret Garden’. I am surely going to try this sometime. Thank you, Laila. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love The Secret Garden too! It’s one of my favorites.

      I didn’t even know there was an I Hate Classics Club! Ha ha! I would recommend this one to you even if you think you don’t like classics. It really feels modern for it’s age. (It was published in 1938.) Great plot, great writing! Let me know if you try it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Laila, I love this post. Rebecca is so creepy and good. I only read it once years ago. Another question, “Should we/do you reread books you read when you were a teenager?” I read so many wonderful novels when I was in high school, like Kindred by Octavia Butler, that I wish I could read today with fresh eyes. Someone told me recently though that’s a whole “thing” in lit crit–this idea that you do get “something” from reading classics in high school. There’s a purpose to it. Catch-22 is another one I wish I hadn’t read in high school.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely think there is benefit to rereading things you read in high school. For example, I read Beloved in 10th grade! Surely I would appreciate it more now. I plan to reread Jane Eyre too since it has been since 9th grade for me. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I remember gobbling this one up and then watching the film too: such fun! I suppose I turn to classics when I feel like I’ve been missing something, often out of a sense of obligation or the idea that there’s something big to discover there. Some years I’ve read almost exclusively classics, but not for awhile now. The one which has caught my eye recently is Dickens’ Bleak House, which it feels like everyone else has read. I’m freshly inspired by the touring exhibit of Guilermo del Toro’s Bleak House (his collectibles and his own work). But I keep reading the first paragraph and then picking up something contemporary instead….

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  5. Ohhh this sounds so great! I’d love to see the film. And I’ve heard about this book from a few different bloggers but haven’t come across it myself yet, so I’m glad you liked it! I guess another book I need to add to the TBR…

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  6. I love, love Joan Fontaine. I saw the Hitchcock version of Rebecca first and later read the novel. I’m glad I went in that order because the first chapter of the novel certain does drag. du Maurier spends ages describing the house and the long drive; it was easier just to see it. Later, I bought a memoir by Joan Fontain. Apparently, she and her sister are both actresses and had a hate/hate kind of relationship. I’m going to read it soon! The next book from du Maurier on my list is My Cousin Rebecca. I saw the film version that has that actor who plays Finn in the Hunger Games movies along with the woman from those mummy movies in the 90s. I didn’t mind it, but other book reviewers have scoffed at the film version. It ends so….mysteriously and without answers! Damn mysteries!

    Here’s my review of Rebecca, which includes some fun movie GIFs: https://grabthelapels.com/2016/07/11/rebecca/

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great review! I’m so glad you loved it in the end – I was worried when it didn’t seem to be grabbing you early on. It’s how she builds up atmosphere with the way she writes about nature that I love most, I think – those rhododendrons! *shudders* I hope you loved the film too – although there are a few changes, I think it’s a great adaptation overall… 😀

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  8. Great review! I read Rebecca for the first time in 9th grade for school. I saw the movie then too (with my class). I’ve re-read the novel a few times, but I haven’t seen the movie since I was 14. It’s time I revisit both!

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  9. I am deeeeeeeeelighted that you liked this book! Isn’t it wondrous? I read it for the first time in high school and was absolutely blown away. And it absolutely holds up on a reread — I invariably am just overcome with suspense in the final third. This BOOK.

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  10. Great review Laila. I don’t usually read classics since I tend to struggle with the writing and language of most of them like Charles Dickens. However, your review has definitely tempted me to check out Rebeca. It sounds brilliant. I will try the book and the movie too when I get the chance.

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  11. Well, it seems like everyone but me has read Rebecca (and Frankenstein). But one of these days, I’ll get to both. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, after it was off to a slow start. I did see yesterday that the library has an audio version, maybe I should give that a try. Or is it too spooky to listen to while driving through the woods?

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  12. I love being able to read a book and then the movie right after. I like to compare them, even though I know the movie will usually come out second. But still, it’s fun to re-live the book in a different way. I hardly ever get a chance to do that these days, but I have big plans for after the kids have flown the coup! 🙂
    I still haven’t read Rebecca, but I own a copy now, so hopefully…
    I love your enthusiasm for this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yay! I’m SO happy you loved it, Laila. It is one of my favourite novels and I’m constatly recommending it to anyone who asks me for a good story (but I think it’s also a great psychological thriller, #readwomen, #readclassics novel – you name it!).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. My grandfather was the one who told me Rebecca’s story, and how! I couldn’t wait to read… I’ve read it 4 times now, watched different movie versions of it and it’s still my favorite.. I love it..

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