My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .”
Deliciously creepy and suspenseful, Rebecca is the story of a young woman so shy, uncertain, and self-effacing that she literally has no name or identity of her own throughout the book, who is rescued from a life of obscurity as a companion to a truly ghastly woman when she falls in love with and marries Maxim de Winter, an older, wealthy gentleman who lost his first wife, the titular Rebecca, less than a year prior. Although the new Mrs. de Winter is thrilled to be making her home at Maxim’s estate, Manderley, she is terrified of the responsibilities and social conventions of being the mistress of such a grand place and she cannot escape the spirit of Maxim’s first wife, whose presence is felt throughout the house and whose memory is carefully preserved by the fascinatingly sinister Mrs. Danvers, the de Winter’s housekeeper who adored Rebecca and resents her successor.
This was my first time reading Rebecca, a book that had been recommended to me as something I should read if I enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I was a little skeptical at the comparison. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and I am always a little wary when folks try to claim that a newer book lives up to the quality and spirit of such a classic. But now that I’ve read Rebecca, I can easily see where the comparison lies and fully agree that Rebecca is the literary heir and successor to the great Gothic romances like Jane Eyre. Although the two books have different tones to a certain degree and Rebecca has a more modern, psychological thriller sensibility, Jane Eyre fans will certainly recognize many of Bronte’s best narrative elements being used to good effect in Rebecca.
Aside from the Jane Eyre comparisons, I was really impressed with Rebecca. The writing was incredibly cinematic, especially the famous opening sequence when the narrator returns to Manderley in her dreams, with rich and immersive details that really set the tone and draws the reader in. I also really appreciated how the author mixed everyday fears and anxieties with the more dramatic Gothic plot points which allowed me to identify with her heroine and made me even more invested in the story. This may have been my first time reading Rebecca but like, du Maurier’s unnamed heroine does in her dreams, I am sure I will return to Manderley again soon.