I know, I know, it’s criminal in some respects that I hadn’t read this before last month. It boasts everything I hold dear in literature (Gothic landscapes, strong women, drama, murder, suspense) and yet somehow I just never got round to it. It’s the same with Jane Austen, I feel close to the subject matter but I’ve never actually read any of it (sue me). But when I saw this cover I was sold immediately and a lot of friends weighed in to confirm that this is their favourite book of all time. Well, it was clearly time to pick it up and give it a go.
Well! It’s one of the best books of all time, isn’t it? While I thought I might be predicting quite a lot of what happened, I can’t be sure I haven’t seen an adaptation and forgotten about it in my 40 year life. But it was magnificent and delicious – and above all, relatable. In the sense that haven’t we all, particularly as women in a patriarchal world compared ourselves unfavourably to others a thousand times?
That our heroine, the unnamed narrator and new Mrs de Winter is living in the shadow of a perfect and lovable ghost is heartbreaking, who could possibly compete? Thankfully there is always more to the story than meets the eye and the tale that unravels is classic and cool as fuck.
In case you’re like me and have been happily chilling under a rock all your life, a cheeky little synopsis for Rebecca:
Our narrator, a naive 20 something companion to a rich American lady meets wealthy widower Maximilian de Winter in Monte Carlo. Despite her lack of life experience, the two embark on a swift courtship that results in marriage. Our nameless heroine soon finds herself back in England, living on Maxim’s sprawling West Country estate Manderley and the phrase fish out of water has never rung truer. Haunted by the ghost (figuratively) of Maxim’s first wife, the breathtakingly beautiful Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter spends her time wandering the estate, wondering if she’s made a massive mistake.
While Maxim isn’t cruel per se, he is often aloof and Mrs de Winter puts this down to him still being in love with his late wife, who drowned in a tragic boating accident only a year before. She might even be able to get on with it if i wasn’t for the deliberate cruelty of bitchy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (surely stiff competition for Nurse Ratched as baddest villainess of all time), who adored Rebecca and relishes every tiny dig.
But as mentioned above, things are not always as cut and dry as they seem and there is plenty more drama before the book is over. Rebecca is an impeccably crafted, paranoid love story that will make you furious on one hand and desperately sad on the other.
What I enjoyed most is that it gives us a heroine who is cut from a different cloth. She’s mousey, angsty and nothing special as far as she’s concerned and yet she has the steel to stay and fight for what she wants and women like that don’t get enough airtime. Her scenes with Mrs Danvers are stressful and every time Rebecca is mentioned by a staff member I wanted to scream – let it go people, she’s dead!
I think this is a book that will just keep giving, an annual revisit sounds like the most comforting thing I can think of and honestly, I enjoyed every word Daphne has set down for me. And lucky me, our local Picturehouse Cinema is showing Hitchcock’s adaptation on the big screen in a couple of months so I’ll be all over that like a rash.
Publisher: Virago (16 July 2015)
Gifted paperback (new)