Saturday, September 10, 2011


Rebecca / Daphne DuMaurier
New York: Doubleday, c1938.
357 p.

I couldn't find the cover image for the old bookclub edition of this which I read, but this one is the closest to it. Besides, I think it highlights one of the key points of the book; the fact that the narrator is an outsider, always looking in at Manderley.

Given my predilection for gothic romance suspense novels, it's hard to believe that it has taken me until now to actually read Rebecca, the classic in the field. But, it was worth getting to it and it's clear why it holds classic status.

The first line is so famous that most people have probably heard it: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." And that one sentence draws the reader in, to a tale of a young innocent girl rescued from a life of drudgery as a rich woman's companion by the first man she falls madly in love with -- the much older, sophisticated Max de Winter. (I mean, even that name!)

The unnamed narrator, Max's second wife, feels constantly overshadowed by the legacy of his dead wife Rebecca. She is clumsy, uncertain, gauche, and painfully awkward. It's only by going through the emotional harrowing of the events of this story that she grows up and is able to act as a woman of the class she's married into (a key indicator: she finds that she is finally able to order the servants about).

The storyline is pretty basic, but still holds twists and turns and plenty of chills. After all this time I still didn't know the truth of the situation so it was a surprise when I turned the page to find out...well, I won't say, so that if anyone else hasn't read it they might still be surprised as well. DuMaurier is a marvellous writer, with descriptions of the landscape and of each individual reflecting the development of the story as well as drawing pretty clear characters in just a few lines. I now understand why Mrs. Danvers is such a terrifying creature! And it contains a key element found in many of these stories, the looming presence of a house. I love all these houses -- Manderley, Thornfield Hall, Hill House, Misslethwaite Manor, and all those unnamed houses in books like The Woman in White. The houses in these stories are as much a part of the atmosphere as the human situation.

I really enjoyed this read and think most readers of this kind of book would love it. There is a certain adjustment to be made to the style, as it is more expository and lengthy than many modern tales but it's so worth it. There are some fabulous quotable bits and enough drama to sustain a reader through a long evening. Well recommended.


  1. Rebecca is one of my favorites. I'm glad you finally read it and liked it!

  2. good review! I loved the book.. and the old black and white movie!

  3. I read this book a couple of decades ago and loved it. Immediately passed it on to my wife and she did as well. It is a true gothic classic and one that is deservedly popular still. One I recommend everyone read who is into this kind of literature.

    Like Deslily I enjoyed the B&W film except for the fact that they shied away from the truth of what happened (interesting examination of film codes at that time). I much prefer the newer version (still many years old) that features Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers.

  4. Chrisbookarama - I don't know what took me so long! Definitely going to return to this one in future :)

    Deslily - I haven't seen the old b&w. Maybe have to do so this month...

    Carl - I started watching the Emilia Fox one but stopped as I didn't want to see it before I read the book...can now watch both versions and see what they've done with it!

  5. Speaking of Emilia Fox, she has narrated a few very fun Agatha Christie mysteries and she is an Excellent reader.

  6. I loved this book! I read it through the library, but I actually ordered a copy the other day so maybe I could reread it...

  7. I so enjoyed this book, as well as Jamaica Inn by the author - Reading Frenchman's Creek now, but not as fond of that one.

  8. I've yet to read Du Maurier, Melwyk, but your recommendation of Rebecca may make it hard for me to choose between that and My Cousin Rachel and/or her short stories (the three things apparently most loved by her fans). Interesting point about the narrator's outsider status, by the way--will have to keep that in mind if I read this anytime soon!

  9. I reaaaaaaalllly need to read this...I've been meaning to for ages. And it sounds like I need to follow it up with The Lantern!

  10. Carl - I'm not a big user of audiobooks so hadn't realized that she did narration. Will check it out.

    Kailana - I know I'm going to have to reread this eventually!

    Diane - I have copies of those 2; have read House on the Strand which is utterly bizarre!

    Richard - I think I'm going to try some of her short stories next...

    Softdrink - I finally picked this up because I didn't want to read The Lantern before reading this one, as Lawrenson said she wrote Lantern in homage to Rebecca.

  11. And the wonderful thing about it is that since it is Agatha Christie most of these are available at or through the library system.

  12. From that totally captivating first line, to the end of the book, I was gripped. It was fantastically written, and the plot - oh wow! Mrs. Danvers?! Oh wow!

    Glad you enjoyed it as well.

  13. Carl - thanks to your suggestions I checked around, and found a 1979 version starring Jeremy Brett, Joanna David & Anna Massey. Have just watched it and it was great! It's a 4 episode miniseries so very detailed; follows the book very closely.

  14. Oh cool, I hadn't heard of that version. I'll have to look into it.


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