My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.…” With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten – a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife – the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.
Allison Brennan writes romantic suspense, and she sees Rebecca as a forerunner to her genre. I was surprised by the comparison, not because it isn’t true, but because I don’t consider myself a fan of romantic suspense. Yet I greatly enjoyed Rebecca.
Contemporary romantic suspense doesn’t appeal to me because I like the high stakes and excitement of thrillers too much… and introducing a romance takes away from that for me instead of adding to it. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s not a subgenre I ever find myself reaching for.
Rebecca, on the other hand… it just has a different feel to it. It’s more subtle than today’s thrillers. For the first half of the book, it’s nothing more than an undercurrent of unease as the heroine comes to this grand estate. She’s uncertain and uncomfortable, suddenly thrust into a social class where she doesn’t feel she belongs, and surrounded by memories of her new husband’s first wife. I was drawn to her and interested in her story… but it isn’t until about halfway through that I became hooked.
As Brennan says, “Had the story merely been about the second Mrs. de Winter overcoming her insecurity… the reading public wouldn’t have been enthralled for more than seven decades. What Rebecca did was take a rather common romance premise – young poor woman falls in love with older rich man – and turn it completely around.”
I’m reluctant to say anything more. I didn’t know any details of the plot going in, and I’m glad I was able to experience it all fresh (which isn’t always possible when reading a classic). I’ll just say that if you have any inclination to read it, I’d suggest picking up Rebecca sooner rather than later.
Fourteen down, eighty-six to go…
Next month I’ll be reading Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector.