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Review – “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a gothic romance/psychological thriller novel set in England in the early 1900s. Having heard a lot about this modern classic, I gave it a shot because I had some credits for an ebook. LOL. I didn’t read up about the book and stayed away from my readers’ group for the fear of coming across a spoiler unawares. Thankfully, the time it took me to finish the book coincided with my controlled social media usage and helped me reach the last word before I could spoil it in any manner.

I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love.

The unnamed heroine narrates the story. Beginning with her encounter with the much older Maximilian de Winter in Monte Carlo to being Mrs. de Winter in a matter of a few weeks, after a whirlwind of outings and romance. She lives a dream until reality strikes, more so once she gets down to Manderley after her honeymoon. Docile, shy, and not fit for the lifestyle that Maxim has, Mrs. de Winter finds herself almost immediately, and always, being compared to Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife who drowned a year ago. And there is the old mistress’s maid, Mrs. Danvers who gives the chill to our new Mrs. de Winter. This old crook never fails to outwit and creep out the new bride, be it the west wing where Rebecca stayed or the upkeep of the house, our heroine is always haunted by an invisible Rebecca and her larger than life aura.
Within days of her arrival at Manderley, the new Mrs. de Winter starts losing her mind. Doubting her relationship with Maxim and the love which seems to have lost makes her feel inadequate next to everybody. From the servants to Maxim’s grandmother, she is apprehensive of meeting anyone and escapes almost each time someone comes calling on her. The girl-woman that she is, she doesn’t talk to Maxim about her feelings, in turn driving himself away from her and her troubles. Mrs. Danvers’ attitude doesn’t help either and things take a nasty turn when the evening of the fancy ball arrives. Dressed in white as an ancestor of Maxim’s, our heroine walks down the stairs to surprise him and gets the shock of her life when everybody is shocked. Needless to say, she runs back to her room being the girl she is, locks herself up, and thinks things are finally over. Her marriage would be a short one, 3 months and she lost the love of her man.
What was it with Manderley? And Maxim? And most importantly, Rebecca? The omnipresent dead first wife who made her life a living hell.

I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.

Where do I begin here? This book had come with high reviews, took me a while before I got used to the writing. It was full of adjectives and descriptions making it a pedestrian read. I literally had to labor through the first half before it picked up the pace and finally I started to enjoy. Had the book went on at the same pace till the end, I don’t know if I would have bothered to finish it or not. With the pace, the heroine seemed tiresome as well. Her vivid imagination didn’t help either, it became a drag to read her thoughts, always the same self derogatory remarks and visions that never happened that way. The heroine was the most fickle, under-confident, clumsy, and gullible character I had ever come across in a book. Always doing things that she ought not to do, believing things she ought not to and in the end, thinking things which she ought not to. Phew, it did get repetitive by the time I was 1/4th into the book. A sickening feeling engulfed me the moment the heroine started with her imagination, it got to that stage at one point. Isn’t it the power of the writing that made me feel this way? Despise the heroine yet sympathize because she was naive to the others who surrounded her? Her ways childlike because of the inexperienced child that she was, married to a man old enough o be her father. The cunning Mrs. Danvers, who kept Rebecca alive in every aspect of the house and conversation fuelled the heroine’s descent to self-loathing. Others who came and went too remembered Rebecca with fondness, comparing, and comparing. Although the characters didn’t have much to say, they left a lasting impression on my mind. Some of them were there just to push the new bride’s agony over her shattered image of happiness, her melancholy husband who seemed to have gotten moodier on his estate.

Men are simpler than you imagine, my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.

Rebecca, the ubiquitous dead wife, haunted the new bride wherever she went. To the bed, to the morning room, to the gardens, to the shore and the beach, she found respite nowhere. Wasn’t going crazy easier than fighting the dead? Rebecca lingers from beyond the grave, marking her presence over Manderley, over Maxim, and over anything that once belonged to her. The larger than life estate that her husband owned seemed to belong to her in some twisted evil manner. Her torchbearer Mrs. Danvers made sure to keep our heroine on her toes and reminded her of the fact that she wasn’t welcome in the house. The more the new bride tried, the more she felt disrespected and hence drifted away from what should have been rightfully hers.

We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end.

As our heroine grows into the shoes of Mrs. de Winter, things seem to fall into place. With a subtle hand, she begins to socialize and endure people, all the while not losing her imagination and visualizing things that weren’t. When all seemed to go well, everything turned the wrong way in the blink of an eye. The evil took over and threatened to tear her world apart, or whatever was left of it already. On the edge, I felt that this is the end but knew that there wouldn’t be an anti-climax.

I believe there is a theory that men and women emerge finer and stronger after suffering, and that to advance in this or any world we must endure ordeal by fire.

The setting of the story is idyllic. The over the top Manderly, the too-good-to-be-true romance with Maxim, and the dreamy narrator. When all came crashing down at the estate, it was a welcome change. The good layered with the evil, the beautiful freckled with ugly, the truth under the shadow of lies, the deceit looked perfect. I am still unsure if I have really grasped the extent of du Maurier’s writing. I keep getting this feeling of having missed something, some meaning that I ought to have noticed which I didn’t. Maybe, some years later I will go to Manderley again.

The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.

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