Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

"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 gray stone mansion 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.

Review: I first saw this book on a list of classic horror novels and thought the synopsis sounded epic. A young bride who barely knows her husband? An old mansion? A creepy servant? A mysterious death? I needed this book in my life. I promptly tracked down a cheap copy and ordered it.

When the book arrived, I was not prepared for what I found. The cover was Valentine-red, and some ugly-ass all-caps font proclaimed it THE UNSURPASSED MODERN MASTERPIECE OF ROMANTIC SUSPENSE.

Romantic suspense?


Luckily for me, this book is light on the romance and heavy on the suspense. Maybe it was considered romantic when it was first published back in the 1930s, but by today’s standards, it’s not romantic at all. Maxim de Winter and the unnamed narrator have only known each other for a few weeks when they make the spontaneous decision to get married. The narrator moves to Maxim’s house, a mansion called Manderley. She becomes the second Mrs. de Winter. The first—Rebecca de Winter—died mysteriously in a sailing accident. The staff at Manderley is still reeling from her death. Rebecca was loved by everybody. As the narrator settles into her new life, she inadvertently uncovers Rebecca’s secrets while desperately trying to preserve her own identity.

“‘Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.’
‘Do you mean you want a secretary or something?’
‘No, I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool.’” - Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier has a thorough understanding of introverts. I actually laughed out loud a few times because the narrator doesn’t always play well with others. She stands in the middle of fancy parties and pretends to have fun while secretly hating every second of it. She sneaks down back staircases to avoid interacting with Manderley’s staff. She even climbs out a window because she’s just come home from a trip and is too exhausted to put up with Maxim’s irritating sister. I can relate. Sometimes, you just want to be left alone. That’s hard when you’re the owner of a mansion-turned-tourist-attraction, and when you’ve taken the place of the ultra-extroverted Rebecca.

My favorite part of the story is how the other characters subtly push the narrator into the space that Rebecca left behind. They expect her to keep the same daily routine that Rebecca had. They make her answer her mail at Rebecca’s desk and serve her all the same foods that Rebecca liked. All of Rebecca’s friends want to meet the new Mrs. de Winter. It’s creepy. Instead of feeling like the owner of a home, the narrator feels like a guest in Rebecca’s home. Rebecca is gone, but she’s far from forgotten.

“‘Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.’” - Rebecca

Reading this book was a strange experience for me. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. I wanted to know what really happened to Rebecca, and why the creepy Mrs. Danvers was so obsessed with her. I even cared about the narrator’s marriage. I wanted to know if she’d stay with Maxim or if she’d leave because he wasn’t over Rebecca. The story is suspenseful and gave me a lot to think about when I wasn’t reading it, but when I was reading it, I often got bored. There are tense moments, but they’re separated by long stretches where nothing happens. The slowness frustrated me.

I’m also not the biggest fan of the writing style. I’m a reader who loves description and always wants more of it, but the description feels clumsy in this novel. For example, the narrator and Maxim would be walking to the beach, and then there’d be a half-page block of text that lists every plant that grows in the area. I was tempted to skim those.

I didn’t love Rebecca as much as I thought I would, but there are some things I admire about it. The novel shows how we can build up a stranger in our minds until they become unrealistically perfect. This is a story about jealousy, insecurity, secrecy, and how our perceptions of others can be disastrously inaccurate.

“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.” - Rebecca

I have My Cousin Rachel sitting on my TBR shelf, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else Daphne du Maurier has written. 



  1. Descriptions are a hit or miss for me. Depending on how the writer handles them I love them or hate them :) too bad this one didn't live up to the expectation, though for a moment on your review I thought I had! Since you couldn't stop thinking about the book LOL I can't remember the last time I read a book that stayed on my mind when I wasn't reading it :)

    1. It’s a pretty good book. I just had high expectations for it because it’s on a lot of “best classics” book lists.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I'm about a 1/3 of the way through Rebecca right now, and I have a lot of the same feelings. I have to chuckle every time the narrator makes an escape to avoid small talk. And it's a little disconcerting how practically everyone compares her to Rebecca, to her face! It's a little rude.

    1. Yes! The characters are so rude. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. I first read this as a teenager, which is probably perfect timing. It's got those Gothic overtones. I'm glad you weren't totally let down to find it's not actually horror.

  4. I have Rebecca sitting on my shelf and I just haven't picked it up yet. I did have in my mind that it was going to be a story that blew me away. I'm glad that you have given a review that will help me go into it with more realistic expectations. Another great review!

  5. Really interesting to read this - Rebecca is one of my favourite novels ever!! I'd love to know what you think of My Cousin Rachel, I've been debating reading it since seeing the film trailer.

  6. Romantic suspense? Is THAT what romantic suspense is..? :0 cause I... would have never thought. You're so right though, it was a love song to introverts!
    I loved Rebecca through and through though. I wish there were more books like that. Or rather, I knew where to find them :D

  7. Hmm... interesting review. When my older sister and my mother read this one, they adored it. I am eager to try it, especially because of the introvert side mentioned -- I hadn't heard this about it before. It's good its more heavy on the suspense than the romance, but quite a shame about the writing style not being for you and you often feeling bored :/