Monday, October 29, 2012


by Daphne Du Maurier

I saw the old Hitchcock movie years ago but had never read the novel.  When audible was having a classics sale and I saw this, I thought it would be perfect for RIP and I was right. 

I love the opening line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again".  Right from the start the book grabs you with the depiction of Manderley, the legendary estate in England, now depicted as deserted with the forest slowly making its advance on the house.  I just love atmospheric stories about houses and Manderley was the main character in this story as far as I was concerned. 

Luckily it had been so long since I saw the movie that I didn’t really remember the plot - and apparently the end is different in the movie.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but for me the plot was not as important as the atmosphere and the characters.  The story is told from the point of view of the second Mrs. De Winters who meets the widowed Mr. De Winter in Monte Carlo, quickly get married and return to Manderley.  The new Mrs. De Winters (who is never actually named in the novel) is young and inexperienced and the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who had been devoted to the first Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca, makes life difficult for the new Mrs. De Winters.  Although never actually part of the current plot, the deceased Rebecca is nevertheless an essential character in this drama, always overshadowing everything that happens at Manderley.  And Mrs. Danvers is one of the creepiest characters you could ever want to meet.

I also enjoyed the style of the book told from the perspective of the narrator, the new Mrs. De Winters.  It took the unreliable narrator technique further than usual as it is not only told from the narrator's point of view but includes a lot of the narrator simply imagining people and events.  Indeed in at least the first half, if not first two thirds, almost all the reader's knowledge of Rebecca comes from the narrator (the new Mrs. De Winters) imagining what she looked like, said or did.  There are long passages recounting events at Manderley that I had to keep reminding my self were being related as the narrator's imaginings and not based on any actual knowledge of the narrator.  It increased the suspense and tension in the story as I was almost always suspicious of the accuracy of what the narrator related.      

As for the new Mrs. De Winters, at first I was just exasperated with her and wanted to give her a good shake - for goodness sake, stand up for yourself for once!  And then when the great revelation is made, her reaction totally puzzled me.  But perhaps I am looking at this from too much of a modern perspective and could not identify with her.  And clearly the new Mrs. De Winters, who doesn’t even merit a name, is intended to contrast with the strong willed, all powerful (even in death) Rebecca.  And Mr. De Winter, or Maxim, for such a central character also seemed somewhat of a wet noodle to me being pushed and pulled by circumstances and of course Rebecca. 

Nonetheless, I loved this creepy, atmospheric gothic tale and highly recommend it.  I listened it as an audio book and while the narrator’s, Anna Massay's, distinct accent and clipped way of speaking took me a bit to get used to, I thought it ultimately fit the new Mrs. De Winter perfectly.


Chrisbookarama said...

Rebecca is one of my favorites, but every time I read it I feel differently about the narrator. That might be the brillance of it, actually!

Anonymous said...

I love this book! I watched the movie for RIP this year. It's actually pretty close to the book--the ending is the same in general, with a crucial detail changed (and I actually like the drama of how Hitchcock did it).

I find it so amazing how little we actually see of Rebecca--we never really see her--but she's still such a presence in the book.

I do want the second Mrs. De Winter to stand up for herself, but mostly I think I feel sympathetic towards her. She doesn't realize her own worth, and I think we all have those moments...or maybe it's just that Joan Fontaine is so sweet and likable in the movie!

Oh, and the first of my favorite opening line ever.