Having no family and no means to support herself, a young, timid woman becomes the paid companion of a wealthy older woman. While vacationing in MonteHaving no family and no means to support herself, a young, timid woman becomes the paid companion of a wealthy older woman. While vacationing in Monte Carlo, she meets a handsome widower, Maxim de Winter. They marry after knowing each other only a few weeks and he takes her home to his estate. Once at Manderley, she immediately feels confronted by everyone’s comparisons between her and Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. Although deceased, Rebecca quickly becomes the main character of this book.
It pains me to admit it, but I can somewhat identify with our nameless narrator - somewhat. She’s barely an adult when she meets de Winter and I can recall all too well how shy and awkward I felt at that age. I can readily imagine that being in a relationship with someone more than 20 years her senior would have made her keenly aware of her lack of experience and increased her feelings of awkwardness. That said, I was frustrated by her timidity – I wanted her to stand up for herself much sooner than she did. Her naivete was also a bit much – when you know someone hates you, you seriously question any helpful advice they decide to share – just sayin’. And her reaction, once she realized the deepest, darkest secret of all? Unreal. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it so I’ll only say that my reaction was something along the lines of WTH?
I may have been frustrated by her, but I was angered by Maxim. This is very much a class-based society; he knew that she did not have the experience to jump into the role people would expect and he pretty much abandoned her to sink or swim on her own. Worse than that, when she fumbled, he either laughed or told her to get over her shyness – both had me complaining loudly as I read. He’s a selfish character, so intent on ignoring the past, that he doesn’t recognize that it’s enveloping his wife and making her miserable. Maxim may be handsome, and he’s definitely got the brooding-thing going on, but he’s no hero: that’s Frank Crawley, the only character in this book that I wholeheartedly liked.
What makes this book exceptional is du Maurier’s mastery of atmosphere and suspense. Rebecca is a wonderfully spooky story with a growing sense of impending doom. From the very beginning of the book, we know that something horrible has happened – we just don’t know what. Our narrator is so eager to sacrifice her own identity in order to be whomever everyone else wants her to be that we don’t even know her first name. Clues about Rebecca’s true nature surround the second Mrs. de Winter, as do clues about what really happened to Rebecca. Consumed by her own sense of inferiority, she misinterprets everything and the reader anxiously wonders if she’s going to figure it out in time. The imagery is vivid – even though our narrator’s overactive imagination got on my nerves a bit, there’s no question that her fancies paint a powerful picture. Du Maurier’s skillful plotting kept me turning the pages and ignoring the fact that it was way past my bedtime.
After all is said and done, Mr. and Mrs. de Winter may have come to a better understanding of one another but this is not a love story; Bella and Edward have a healthier relationship. It is an excellent story of human flaws, most notably pride, jealousy and misperception....more