Monday, September 7, 2009

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

I have been complaining lately about not reading as many books as I’d like to and quietly thinking that I have the worst luck with the quality of the books that I do manage to read (more ‘so, so’ ones than the wonderful ones). But then I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and everything just got better. It is because of books like this one that I love reading because it makes me realize that one has to dig deep, long and hard to find true gems and once they are found to appreciate them better.

Max de Winter, the owner of magnificent Manderley estate, comes to Monte Carlo to recover after the death of his wife, Rebecca. While there, he meets a young girl, barely an adult, who is a mousy little thing working as a maid-in-training for a know-it-all, nosy Mrs. Van Hopper. Suddenly, a strange relationship develops between Max and the girl. They spend together enough time for her to fall in love with Mr. de Winter and his sudden marriage proposal to her ends up to be a shock to everyone around including the girl. She agrees (what else could she do, it’s her dream come true) and after a few months of honeymoon, Max and new Mrs. de Winter arrive at Manderley. From pretty much the first day, Mrs. de Winter realizes that she would never be treated as the rightful wife of Maxim de Winter by the people who live in Manderley because this honor will always belong to mysterious, beautiful and very much dead Rebecca. And so what was supposed to be a dream life turns into a nightmare for the unsophisticated and timid second lady of the estate.

There wasn’t a single thing about Rebecca that I could criticize. Du Maurier had this wonderful ability to pull the reader into the gloomy, mysterious atmosphere of Rebecca right from the start. I didn’t so much read about this new to me world (a thing most readers look for when starting a book) as really experience it. The descriptive passages of nature and Manderley’s surroundings are beautiful and some observations on what may seem mundane, truly extraordinary. Here are excerpts on roses and rhododendrons (flowers that are common, albeit beautiful) that made me see them in a new light.

A rose was one of the few flowers, he said, that looked better picked than growing. A bowl of roses in a drawing-room had a depth of colour and scent they had not possessed in the open. There was something rather blowsy about roses in full bloom, something shallow and raucous, like women with untidy hair. In the house they became mysterious and subtle.(p.33)

We were amongst the rhododendrons. There was something bewildering, even shocking about the suddenness of their discovery. The woods had not prepared me for them. They startled me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterous red (underline mine, I just love this phrase), luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron I had seen before. (p.65)

The peculiar thing you’ll notice when reading Rebecca is that the second Mrs. de Winter is never called by her first name. As I turned pages, it became quite obvious why. The way she acts is as if she is never her own person. She is actually quite a sad character. Her innocence and naiveté about love, future life in Manderley and I think, life in general are recipes for disaster as it’s quite easy to have them shattered by the first evil person that comes her way. In this case the girl had a very bad luck of contending with evil Mrs. Danvers and most importantly, with dead Rebecca. Mrs. de Winter’s submissive behavior became quite frustrating to me and I just wanted to go over there and shake her and tell her to wake the heck up and start standing up for herself. She finally had but I can’t go into the reasons (you’ll have to read it to know). The only thing I can say is she didn’t do it because she thought one day, ‘Okay, enough of this bullying, I am not Rebecca but I am a person that deserves respect and will get it!’. No, she did it only after having gotten a validation from another person.

Rebecca is called a classic, Gothic romance and I tell you, just when I thought I got it all figured out, I got smacked with a twist after twist. And the character of Mrs. Danvers has to be one of the most evil in the history of mysteries. I was glad to see her cry after Rebecca. It wasn’t because I am just such an evil person myself that enjoys the emotional suffering of others. It was because up to that point, I started thinking that maybe Mrs. Danvers died with Rebecca and it was her demonic ghost governing the Manderley household. I was relieved to find out she had human feelings.

It is true that it took me a long time to finish Rebecca, but instead of feeling the usual frustration that comes with reading a book for an extended period of time, I am happy I allowed myself the luxury to spend more time in the world of Manderley. It would have been a shame, had I read the whole book in one sitting.

Book Info:
Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
ISBN: 0385043805
Published by: Doubleday

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eclectic/eccentric