Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Rebecca: Daphne du Maurier
I first came upon du Maurier's Rebecca in a fellow book blog, despite it's standing as the classic that established du Maurier as one of the most popular writers of her time. But frankly, the story didn't capture me. An unnamed young woman, working as a companion to a stodgy old lady in Monte Carlo, encounters a handsome, wealthy, intriguing (read tall, dark, and handsome) gentleman whom she falls in love with. They get married, they honeymoon, and then they settle in at Mr. de Winter's home, Manderley. Side note, I simply love an estate with a name! Ah Manderley, where the head of housekeeping, Mrs. Danvers, still holds a flame for the late Mrs. de Winter, and where our young narrator believes her tall, dark, and handsome husband to regret their union due to an undying love for his deceased first wife. Sounds kind of, dare I say, dull? I now know that's because I was never introduced to Rebecca as a mystery. What sounds like a somewhat uninteresting tale of romance, is in fact an emotional roller coaster.
To begin with, du Maurier starts at the end. One of the most famous first lines ever written, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," takes place after the last page of the book. The trick is that by the time you get to the last page, you have been on such a journey with these multi-dimensional characters that you have forgotten how the story began. Which I suppose is a real testament to the meticulous story-telling of du Maurier. Her characters don't fall in love, they share quiet moments that bond them together. The narrator isn't just a young companion to a stodgy old lady, she is an incongruously naive girl who has traveled at the side of her employer. The staff at Manderley aren't just background housestaff, they are characters with motivations and emotions of their own that are described by their dialogue and their actions. To say that du Maurier has written a fine novel is an understatement. What she has really accomplished is the creation of an entire world that stands on it's own, and she has done so with a murderer amongst her cast!
I admit it takes a bit of time to become fully involved with Rebecca, but isn't that the way with real people? Humans are apt to share bits and pieces of themselves with us in small manageable chunks. So it is with Rebecca; we are slowly introduced to our cast as well as the Manderley estate. The many secrets are parceled out like rations so as not to spoil the mystery all at once. This isn't one of those mystery novels where you get an intuition from the very beginning about "whodunnit". Instead, the reader learns tidbits of information as our narrator does, never knowing more than the young Mrs. de Winter.
Simply stated, this book isn't for everyone. It's a classic mystery with a touch (maybe more like a handful?) of the Gothic tale. It's not action packed, and the murder is over and done with by the time we pick up the book. It is, however, an intriguing little mystery with twists and turns and a very fine line between good guys and bad guys.