Last night, I finished reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and I was so wrapped up in the ending, I FORGOT TO DRINK MY WINE, which was sitting right next to me. So. Let that be a lesson to you. Good gothic mystery romance = wasted vino… Oh, haha. No. Who am I kidding. I drank it afterwards, you guys, in celebration and as a toast to Ms. Du Maurier. After all, there are worst things in life than warm chardonnay, amiright? I mean, I can’t think of too many at this moment, but let’s roll with it.
A friend—we’ll call her Shmarnesandnoble—recommended Rebecca to me after I purchased (and promptly devoured) Stephen King’s Misery and L.M. Montgomery’s entire Anne of Green Gables series (the latter for the millionth time). I don’t know how Shmarnesandnoble’s recommendation algorithm works, but let’s just say she gets me. I really can see the similarities between Stephen, Lucy Maud, and Daphne. All such varied voices, but with the latter tying them together in Rebecca—equal parts creepy, sinister, endearing, and ladylike.
The Goodreads Synopsis
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
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.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” Swoon. Is that one of the greatest first lines of all time? Yes? YES? I know. It’s so juicy. I could read it over and over again. In fact, just try it. Read it aloud to yourself. Go on. Let it linger. I’ll wait. (Doesn’t it sound so dreamy and wondrous?)
Great opening lines make me nervous, though. Will everything subsequent to that one pale in comparison? Thank heavens the answer is NO in this case. Rebecca is a build-up novel. It quietly builds up—sometimes so quietly that you want to grab the unnamed protagonist and shake her by the shoulders. But it does build up, and it does NOT disappoint.
Admission: While I dabble in most genres, I haven’t really read much gothic literature (yes, I’m ashamed of this). Not because I’ve been purposely avoiding it, but it’s just not been recommended to me before (thanks, Shrmarnesandnoble!). And really, this is ridiculous because I DO love romance, and I DO love history, and I DO love creepy thrillers. But I haven’t gotten into gothic tales like this yet. **shrugs** But it’s not too late for me, y’all: Send me more book recommendations in this genre, please! I’d love to hear some.
So, I went into this one blind, having only seen or heard of this classic novel in passing. Rebecca was written in 1938, and it’s full of that eloquent, unassuming wit that I just drool over. And also? Before I forget to mention it, DU MAURIER CRUSHES THE DIALOGUE GAME. I mean, crushes. Novel dialog can be so challenging for writers (like me!) of all experience levels, and the author’s carefully constructed conversations just ooze with ease. (And the internal dialogue the bashful narrator is consumed with? Du Maurier crushes that, too.)
Rebecca is the story of a meek, unassuming, nameless young woman who, within a matter of days and happenstance, goes from orphaned lady’s maid one moment to the wealthy second wife of the much older, widowed and famous Maxim De Winter the next. She’s whisked from her current humdrum life to Manderley—a castle-like estate that she could’ve only dreamed about before. Almost immediately, the main characters unfold:
- The protagonist/narrator (the new Mrs. De Winter)
- Maxim De Winter (now-husband and the heir of Manderley)
- Rebecca De Winter (deceased first wife, dead approximately one year)
- Mrs. Danvers (lead housekeeper, formerly Rebecca’s dutiful, devoted companion)
- Manderley itself (the estate)
The story revolves around the narrator’s inferiority complex. Almost as soon as they arrive to the infamous Manderley estate after their honeymoon, she begins to feel Maxim’s haunting regret. Maxim’s not much for chit-chat, and the narrator finds herself fumbling for anything to do or say whilst at the estate. Though it is now her home, she is not comfortable. She believes her husband will forever be in love with his first wife, and that he essentially chose the second Mrs. De Winter based on his need for a pet—a companion to keep Manderley running. Someone to choose the daily dinner menu, and read near in the library. And not even that seems to be working for them. The marriage, it would seem, is in shambles from the start.
Mrs. Danvers is a character we readers love to hate. She is completely unlikable, you guys. But in a good way. My GOD, is this woman a trainwreck of a wretched witch. She feeds off of the narrator’s feeble attempts to be a well-known and well-liked lady of society like Rebecca was. And eventually she nearly drives our (exasperatingly submissive) protagonist to the edge. Mrs. Danvers, we learn, had an unhealthy obsession with Maxim’s first wife, and would stop at nothing to protect Rebecca—though she’s been dead for a year.
I’d gotten about halfway through the novel, and was loving the prose so much that I didn’t mind that there hadn’t yet been much of a big, inciting event to fret over. But then? Oh man. Then it happened.
Everything comes to a screeching halt the night the narrator finally breaks through her shyness barrier (hallelujah, because girlfriend, that was getting old, and she needed to grow a pair). She determines that, once and for all, she’ll take reigns in her owns hands and win the town—and her husband—over by absolutely killing it at the annual Manderley “fancy-dress ball” costume gala. YES! But of course, the evening does not go as planned, and instead, ends up setting Maxim off on an angry rampage—and our narrator into a depressed frenzy of despair.
But ohhhh sheeeit. The novel’s climax only builds stronger and faster from there.
Wow. And nowwww the book really get’s goin’. I mean WHOA. Shocking secrets unfold. It is CONFESSION TIME, y’all. There are revelations. Mystery visitors in the night. There’s murder. There’s intrigue. ALL THE THRILLS. All of ’em. They’re right here.
If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction, please, I beg of you: Do not let the name or cover of the book (or floral dialect) deter you. It’s about two women—one dead, one very much alive—fighting to stay relevant (hashtag girlpower). It is a thriller wrapped in a sheepskin cloak. This book has balls. It has intrigue. It’s a slow build-up to massive deception. Such wicked genius.
Read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. And do it with a glass of chardonnay (if you’re old enough). It’s beautifully rogue and delicious.