My rating: 5 stars
In Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier exceled at creating what I would call a compelling character study elegantly wrapped up in a looming mystery. Throughout the book, we see the unnamed narrator slowly evolving from a timid and insecure young woman, living under Rebecca’s shadow, into a more assured person. To discover the motivations of the other characters is a helpful impetus to the narrator’s growing process.
From a later period in time, the narrator remembers Manderley and what led her there. She met Maxim de Winter at Monte Carlo, where she was working as a companion for Mrs Van Hopper, who is inconvenient, intrusive and far from discreet. She managed to forcefully get acquainted with Mr de Winter, a moment the narrator, who accompanied her, recalls as embarrassing. During that first encounter, Maxim de Winter is remembered by the narrator as fascinating, although slightly sardonic. His remarks really made me laugh.
Once, Mrs Van Hopper fell ill and the narrator had lunch alone with de Winter by chance. A familiarity developed between them and the hardness she had previously perceived in him disappeared. But any mention of Manderley, his house, and his face clouded over. After lunch, they spent the afternoon together and drove to the summit of a mountain where Maxim had been before. For a moment, he was in kind of a trance, like he wasn’t really there.
When they returned to the hotel, he lent her a book of poetry she discovered in the car. It had been given to him by his deceased wife Rebecca, who had drowned in the bay near Manderley.
“What footsteps echoed in his mind, what whispers, and what memories, and why, of all poems, must he keep this one in the pocket of his car?”
They continued to drive together in the following days and the narrator discovered how it feels like to be in love for the first time. The way in which her experience of being in love is described is evocative and genuine. However, the shadow of Rebecca was always present.
As Mrs Van Hopper decided to go to New York, Maxim asked the narrator to marry him. Although she was surprised by the proposal, which she hadn’t anticipated, she accepted. The contrast between what she expected a proposal to be like and the straightforward question she got bothered her, though.
Her insecurities continued to grow when they went to live at Manderley after their honeymoon. She felt like a stranger living in a place foreign to her. She didn’t know anything about the daily routines of her husband and how to deal with the staff. So, she kept demeaning herself and felt like she should be doing things differently. She ought to be more like Rebecca, who had been the decisive voice in the house management. Even Maxim remained a mystery to her, as he didn’t speak about the past and she didn’t ask. During the honeymoon, he showed that he could be ardent, cheerful and happy, but at Manderley he was more prone to be moody.
Rebecca seemed to have been good at everything. She was clever, beautiful and organised astonishing parties. The narrator felt inferior to her, constantly living under her shadow and believing that everyone compared her negatively with Rebecca. Mrs Danvers, the head housekeeper at Manderley, was a constant reminder of Rebecca’s superiority. She was completely obsessed with Rebecca and didn’t overcome her death at all. She dealt with it in an unhealthy way to the point of being cruel to the narrator.
But had Rebecca really been that perfect? How had she truly been like? There is always more to a person than may first meet the eye. Her personality becomes more evident when secrets start being revealed, although we can’t really make a comprehensive judgment about her as we only have second-hand accounts.
Before the enthralling mysteries start to be more openly discussed, the characters become quite familiar to the reader. They feel profoundly real and fleshed out, since their characterisation is clear and distinctive, although sometimes enigmatic to keep us guessing about their past actions.
The prose is enthralling and it feels like we are in the same place and moment as the characters, standing by their side. I loved the creation of atmospheres, which set the tone for some specific moments. Even when it seems that nothing important is really happening, it’s still a gripping story. Daphne du Maurier wrote the book in such a seamless way that even the inner thoughts and struggles of the narrator are attention-grabbing enough.
Important messages are conveyed by this story. It reveals the harmful way in which we can compare ourselves to others, who we believe to be the epitome of perfection, leading us to the brink of paranoia, and how people can give too much importance to appearances, even though that can result in misery. It feels like Manderley in itself has to always be perceived as a symbol of a picture-perfect life.
I really didn’t want the book to come to an end. I became so accustomed to the characters that I now miss being in their world. After finishing the novel, it’s interesting to reread some of the first pages and realise how details are used to help us predict the outcome of the story. Rebecca definitely is a memorable read that provides the reader with much to think about regarding what is expected of women.