Working as a companion to Mrs van Hopper has brought the unnamed protagonist to Monte Carlo where Mrs van Hopper spies Maxim de Winter, whose somewhat tragic story precedes him: he is a widower and lives at the grand estate of Manderley, now all alone. Mrs van Hopper arranges a meeting with Maxim de Winter which also introduces the protagonist to him. When Mrs van Hopper falls ill, the protagonist and Maxim de Winter start to spend more time with each other and finally he asks her to marry him. But living in Manderley, where the shadow of Maxim’s deceased wife Rebecca hangs over everything and her housekeeper Mrs Danvers makes sure it doesn’t leave, proves quite a challenge for them.
I’ve been meaning to read Rebecca for a while, and despite its renown I actually managed to stay spoiler-free – which was a good thing. But even if I had known more about how things would go down, I doubt that I would have been any less engaged in the book. Rebecca is a classic for a reason, a hypnotic novel that doesn’t let go of you easily.
Rebecca really had me going, there is no other way to put it. The first two thirds (or even more) of the book I was completely with the protagonist in trying to put everything together, stumbling over the same things that she did. Her insecurity about what everything means was my insecurity. I even started to doubt whether she is a reliable narrator or whether she is imagining things. It made reading the novel incredibly tense, despite the fact that there isn’t actually all that much that happens.
It all culminates in the masquerade ball scene where I felt so much with the protagonist, I hardly got through the scene. Reading it I felt all the mortification, embarassment, confusion, and also anger that lies in that scene and it really burned. I still get goosebumps jus thinking about it.
The character work here really is exceptional. You get such a clear picture of these people and their relationships to each other, and to Rebecca. (Also, Frank is deeply in love with Maxim. Try to change my mind about that.)
Once the mystery is solved, the novel did lose a bit for me – it lived too much of the uncertainty that once we had certainty, it felt a bit disappointing. Plus, the way the mystery is solved doesn’t sit right with me. [SPOILERS] That Maxim’s killing of Rebecca is just accepted as, basically, what she deserved for being a cruel asshole and then even excused with “it’s what she wanted”, is problematic as fuck. And that is not even considering that he thought that she was pregnant when he killed her. [/SPOILERS] Given, though, that the solution is only a very small part of the otherwise excellent novel, I am willing to overlook it.
In any case, I guess I need to read more du Maurier.
Summarizing: really good.