Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rebecca and a Friend of a Friend........

I think I am the only person in the world who has not read any of Daphne du Maurier's work, especially the classic novel Rebecca. It has to be admitted that I have reached this age and not looked at one line of her writing - not until now, that is! Thanks to fellow bloggers ( Dot especially:) I spent all this weekend reading Rebecca and it was every bit as good as every fan had promised it would be.

Other than the thrilling storyline, the most interesting thing about this book for me is the fact that when it was first published, in 1938, it was billed as a 'True Romance' and a kind of 1930's equivalent of today's chick-lit. Daphne du Maurier hated the book being categorised in this genre and after reading it I can understand why. Even Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation (which I watched on YouTube after reading the book - yes, I became obsessed!!) had that true romance undertone to it and although the film painted some excellent character portraits and focused on the insecurities, insanity and broodiness of some of the main cast, I do not believe it truly captured the heart of what du Maurier was trying to say in the book.

Max de Winter is a recently widowed man whose wife, Rebecca, has been killed at sea. He takes a holiday from his stately home on the coast, Manderley, because he is on the verge of a breakdown and needs to get out of the house as it holds so many memories of Rebecca. The house is famous throughout the county for it's parties and is know for it's style and elegance, which is due mainly to the work of Rebecca, who by all accounts, was the perfect hostess, wife, mistress of the house, employer and socialiser. Max heads to Monte Carlo where he meets a young girl half his age, sweeps her off her feet and marries her, all within a few weeks. They return to Manderley and the new Mrs de Winter finds herself mistress of an enormous staff and home and caught up in a world she knows very little about, completely out of her depth. The new Mrs de Winter appears to be the absolute opposite of Rebecca in every way, shy, awkward, clumsy, timid and eager to please.

Mrs Danver's is the housekeeper and was Rebecca's maid and closest confident, Frank Crawley is Max de Winter's secretary. Both characters play key roles in Mrs de Winter's life during her first few weeks at Manderley. Needless to say, Mrs Danver's loyalty remains staunchly with Rebecca and to the past so she is not a friend of Mrs de Winter and as Frank is devoted to Max, he becomes an ally and friend of the new mistress of the house.

The story takes various twists and turns and it illustrates how inexperienced, inept at being mistress of the house and totally reliant on male affirmation, the young Mrs de Winter is. She is not given a christian name in the book and is only ever referred to as Mrs de Winter or Madame throughout, therefore, her identity is tied exclusively to her husband's name and not her own. (Not a lot of Girl-Power there, I here you say!)

*****This is where you should stop reading if you have not read the book and don't want to know any more of the plot (Scroll down to next line of bold print to continue...... and no peeking on the way!!)*****

After the shocking truth of the real events on the evening of Rebecca's disappearance are uncovered, I began to realise that the hero and heroine of the story were actually a murderer and later an accessory to the fact! Throughout the clever narrative, du Maurier's ability to bring the reader along with these two dubious characters and have said reader sympathise with their situation, was nothing short of genius. I was with them all the way, willing them on through the tribunal and the visit to London, hoping against hope for a positive outcome for them both, that is to say, I was hoping that they would get away with murder or that it was all just a horrible mistake and Rebecca hadn't been murdered at all!! I couldn't bear to think that I was on the murderer's side in this story and not the victim's. Then I stopped and said to myself "What am I thinking?"!!

I re-read the beginning of the book after I had finished the end as the first and some of the second chapters talk about Mr and Mrs de Winter's life in the present, which is set several years after Rebecca's death and the time the rest of the story focuses on. I was shocked when I realised that the biggest crime of all was actually being committed there, right there in the present at the beginning of the book and I had no idea of that when I first read it.

****You can rejoin the post now - I hope you didn't peep at the last two paragraphs****

Brilliant writing! It was no more a chick-lit book than Lord of The Rings!

Tell me what you think of Rebecca - I adored it and will be on the look out for anything du Maurier - do you have any suggestions of what I should read of hers next?

Speaking of women and Girl-Power (which I was actually, if you include Mrs de Winter, Mrs Danvers and Rebecca) I met a really nice lady on Monday who I hadn't met before. Several years ago I lived in Singapore and became friends with a lovely fellow Brit there who had three sons around the same age as mine. We met at picnics and social events, we chilled out on the beach and at outings and got together on committees to organise this and that. Over the years we became close and had a lot in common, which included the love of fine wine and laughing at life in general. Then one day she headed back to Canada whilst I remained in Singapore. Shortly afterwards we lost touch and I often wondered what had happened to her.

Then one day, a year or so ago, I got a friend request on Facebook and it was her. Since then we have shared each others family photos, commented on life's little nuances and generally continued to laugh together. A few weeks ago she dropped me a note which introduced me to another friend of hers in Canada, also a fellow Brit, who was on her way, for the first time, to holiday in Hong Kong. We two became friends on Facebook and before we knew it, we were planning to get together on Monday for a mooch around in Honkers - I am so glad we did! We had a wonderful time chatting and telling each other about our life and family. It was as if we had known each other for years and when I left her it struck me just how small this world really is.

I know we will stay in touch and now I have another friend who is a friend of a friend of mine - that really is Girl-Power at work!


  1. I loved your review! You made me want to read Rebecca yet again, I am so pleased that you enjoyed it! Thanks re the wedding, I will definitely need a break afterwards, I never realised how much was involved! Thank you so much for the book suggestions as well, they all sound right up my street, especially Beyond Black, they are all going on my wish list. I would certainly recommend My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier, it is my second favourite book of hers! I would also put The Book Thief on your list, I know that it's not really a summery read but it is definitely one of the best that I have read this year!

  2. I read Rebecca many years ago. Quite a haunting type of experience but brilliant. Du Maurier definitely evokes tension and atmosphere from what I can remember. Classic books truly remain unforgettable and last through the generations.

  3. Thank you, Dot, I really did love Rebecca and thought it was so well written that I was fooled into having sympathy for 'the dark side' (as it were).
    OK, so 'My Cousin Rachel' is next on my du Maurier list and I will definitely find 'The Book Thief'. I have seen it in the local book store, actually - thank you so much for the recommendations. We are doing well with the summer reading lists, so far, aren't we!
    Planning a wedding is exhausting, but, so worth all the effort in the end. I remember planning my wedding so well, as if it was yesterday and yet it was a long time ago. Will your sister help you with the cake? You could have a mound of cupcakes as your wedding cake, each with something written on it for your friends and rellies - a special message from you and Mr S - how memorable would that be! Do keep me posted, I love celebrations, especially weddings:)
    Angela, I don't think I will ever forget Rebecca and I know I will read it again and again. It is one of those classic books that sticks in the mind (like, for me, Catcher in the Rye, which was the first 'real' book I ever read and adored. The only problem with 'Catcher' is that I haven't had the courage to read it again just in case it is not as good as I remember it to be, I would hate for that to happen). What was your first ever favourite book?
    Tom told me that he had read Rebecca at uni and can't remember it - I was shocked, but then, he said it was because he probably read it in the pub! :)

  4. I suppose it has to be Little Women thinking back! I couldnt re read it now without picturing the film characters so that spoils the original pictures created in your head on first reading! Lol

  5. This is a great review! I didn't peek between the bold!! I need to read this very soon. I feel as though I'm really missing out.

  6. Little Women, Ang, I remember reading that, but, cannot think of the storyline now - must take a look at it again.
    Jackie, thank you. I was completely enthralled after the first page. So glad you didn't read between the bold!!