Monday, 24 November 2014

Book Review: Rebecca

Description: (from Amazon)

"Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again." 

So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated grey stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley.
(Apologies for this somewhat gothic and un-realistic description, I was too lazy to write my own)

It's not often that I come across a book which I wish I could say that I'd written - it's easy to admire talent from afar and marvel at the splendour and skill involved without desiring any part of it. It may sound ridiculous to a non-reader, but there are some books that simply get under your skin, live and breathe before your eyes, play their scenes out in your head, and that you perfectly understand and yet still know nothing about. That's kind of what I felt about 'Rebecca'. 

I'd fallen into a 'non-reading' rut and hadn't really found anything interesting to catch my fancy, when I remembered an article that I'd read years ago about this book after coming across a beautiful, history-filled copy from 1940 in my dusty local bookshop. It ended up siting on my bursting shelves for several weeks with the very best of intentions, but it wasn't until I finally decided to have a peek that I realised it was too beautiful to put down. And really, "too beautiful" is all that sums up 'Rebecca'. 
It's harsh yet tender, whimsical yet broken by reality, the perfect gothic thriller with the simple touch of ordinary humanity. The true strength of it lies not in it's storyline, (the 'mystery' surrounding Rebecca's death and character is not difficult to solve, I guessed it from the very start), but in the beauty of it's writing. Du Maurier's use of metaphors and descriptive writing gives an amazing depth and allows the story to breathe through what might have been a rather dull and tedious work. The young woman who narrates it is never given a name (despite the fact that Maxim tantalisingly tells her -and us - "I told you at the beginning of lunch you had a lovely and beautiful name...") - a stroke of genius on the author's part, so that even though we can read her deepest thoughts and dreams there is still some part of her that remains hidden and sacred. Maxim himself is slightly wooden in his controlled and structured denial of the past; it's not until the slowly devastating end that his character is understandable. Mrs Danvers is cruel in her devotion and non-believable in her love for Rebecca.

True, it has it's fair share of faults - it moves slowly, so much so that you feel almost dragged into the everyday, and the conversations between characters can be at times meaningless. For a realist like myself there is perhaps the occasional overdose of hopeful sentimentally - we realists like to have sense to prevail. But you can't read 'Rebecca' like a novel. It's really just a journal, quite literally the 'breathings of the heart' of a naive young girl with a beautiful and unusual name.

I've had a hard time choosing just one passage to share with you, but in the end I decided on the beginning of chapter 5, it perfectly illustrates Du Maurier's writing style and takes what could be called commonplace, making it beautiful to read about.

"I am glad that it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls at the first barbed word. To-day, wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age, the infinitesimal pricks of day by day brush one but lightly and are soon forgotten, but then- how a careless word would linger, becoming a fiery stigma, and how a look, a glance over a shoulder, branded themselves as things eternal. A denial heralded the thrice crowing of a cock, and an insincerity was like the kiss of Judas. The adult mind can lie with untroubled conscience and a gay composure, but in those days even a small deception scoured the tongue, lashing one against the stake itself."


  1. i just wanted to say Sarah that I'm sooooo enjoying reading your new blog!!!!!!!!! You are such an inspiring writer!!!!!! xx


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