"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me”.
Little did I know that from that sentence on, I would be on a literary roller-coaster. The way that this book is written; the suspense, the performance, characters who you hate and love and cry for, the yelling at the yellowed pages “what are you doing to me?!” all made for a day at the fair for the brain.
The main character-and story teller-of the book-is the second wife of Maxim de Winter. The book begins with her looking back on a dream that she had about Manderley and as she remembers her dream the story unfolds (this may be a bit tricky for some who think she is just had one very long dream throughout the book, but stick with it). We never know the name of this character, but we certainly learn about her thoughts and emotions.
We are lead on a journey through Monte Carlo where we are introduced to a rich, obnoxious Mrs Van Hopper who happens to be paying our narrator for companionship (no euphemism intended). And Maxim, dear tortured Maxim, the owner of Manderley, who lost his first wife, Rebecca, in a drowning accident. The narrator and Maxim spend a lot of time with each other when Van Hopper falls ill and has to spend her days in bed. In brief, their car rides together and Maxim’s imparting of daily wisdom on the naive and shy narrator leads to an engagement and very quiet affair for a wedding.
Back at Manderley, that is where the story really gets good. With a malevolent woman for a house keeper (Mrs Danvers), an almost-silent butler and servants that seem to be more capable of day to day activities of Manderley than the new woman of the house (the narrator) all make for a compelling drama with intrigue, jealousy, suspense, romance, twist and turns, makes-you-pace-the-room pages.
I would love to dissect the whole story here for you, but then you wouldn’t need to read it. And you must!
It is study of envy, of juxtapositions that make the reader put down the book and contemplate the concepts and marvel at the sheer genius that du Maurier was without even trying.
Rebecca has also been described as the first major gothic romance in the 20th century. It certainly contains all the elements of the great gothic novel and had often been compared to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, with the house so strongly influenced by the previous occupant, the brooding hero in the shape of Maxim, the mad woman in the shape of Mrs Danvers, the growing tension and, well, I won’t give any more examples because that will just give the game away.
However, I thought the book ended abruptly. I am a “and then” reader and felt a little out done when Maurier -done on purpose, I am sure-ends it as spectacularly as she began the book.
Do me a favour: pick the book up. Read the first chapter. After that, you can sit with me and have a glass of wine as we discuss the whole book. For that is what you will have read...
- Review by Tarryn Talbot