**spoiler alert** I want to start off by saying there are spoilers everywhere in this review. If you've somehow managed to get through life thus far w...more**spoiler alert** I want to start off by saying there are spoilers everywhere in this review. If you've somehow managed to get through life thus far without reading the book, seeing any of the film/tv renditions and missing out on the musical (which can be found in German, Korean, Japanese and quite a few other languages... there's also a English subtitled version floating around on Youtube).... Read the book! Be taken unawares and live the surprise with the narrator.
Consider yourself duly warned. In a lot of ways I will say it was unfortunate that I read this book long after I had seen the 1940 Hitchcock film a few times over and more recently watched the German musical rendition. When one knows the ending, it's a matter of reading the pages and waiting for various (favorite? Climatic? Signature?) moments to happen. Also, knowing the plot already from the film and the musical, there was no surprise when it turns out that Rebecca was not quite the hallowed saint the narrator initially imagined her to be which I think is perhaps one of the bigger turning points. I simply waited for the penny to drop for the narrator.
I thought this when I recently watched the German musical but the narrator is so obnoxious (though I adored her "Last Night I Dreamt of Manderley" song). I thought to myself maybe I simply don't like the girl playing the lead? So I tried not to carry these feelings with me as I approached the book... only to discover that actually being inside the narrator's head-space was much, much worse. The actress wasn't the problem at all--she'd done a bang up job portraying the character. The narrator is simply annoying.
Still I wanted to be fair so I made up a few more excuses to give her some leeway while I hoped for some development. She's young, inexperienced, "innocent" at the age of 21 in the way we no longer are in the 21st century.
She's also neurotic, obsessive, spineless, needy and so childish to the point of being obnoxious that I wanted to slap her. Throughout the book. I just couldn't feel any sympathy for her. Despite being a companion to a wealthy American it seems she refused to pick up anything about society. Granted Mrs. Van Hopper was a bit of a social parasite so perhaps she wasn't learning from the best but there were a few instances where some skills on offer would've stood her in good stead. The opportunities for conversation, practice at playing bridge, practice at playing tennis and yes, while she dabbled at them all she seemed more preoccupied with clinging to her ignorance. She preferred to hide behind the excuse that she was no good at any of those things so she need not apply herself. One would think that if one were penniless (and not living in a day and age where getting a "job" was acceptable or even possible for someone of her upbringing and experience) she would exert herself a little. It was her livelihood on the line.
Instead she hops at the chance to marry Maxim, having already fallen into a headlong infatuation with him. Here it was the thought of "ball and chain" kept coming to mind. For she depends upon Maxim emotionally, mentally and I think if the situation hadn't barreled down into its inevitable conclusion, Maxim might've begun to find the weight of her need crippling. He is her happiness, her father, brother, son (let's pause and think about how unromantic that is--and those were her words, not mine) but also does acknowledge her obsession when he is away, saying that now the focus of her obsession was gone she didn't have to spend her time wondering if he was happy, what he was thinking about. Not very healthy relationship, if one were to ask me.
Maxim, you sure know how to pick 'em.
Not that Maxim is much of a gem himself (manslaughter would be the kinder conviction but if you bring a gun to the cottage with the intent of "surprising" Rebecca, I think of that as premeditated murder. Just saying.)
The narrator also spends far too much time in her own head-space, dreaming up hypothetical situations. An example would be when Maxim drives up to London, leaving her alone in Manderley and in that space of time she imagines him getting into a car accident, how she would visit him in the hospital, see how frail and weak he looked, to the next "logical" conclusion of attending his funeral with herself leaning on Frank Crawley's arm for support. Next the phone rings and a message is put through--Maxim arrived safely at his London club. If it only happened occasionally it would be one thing, perhaps, but it happened all throughout the book. I could've probably subtracted a 100 pages on her wild hypothetical fantasies alone.
Another unattractive quality was her moments of petty superiority over people she felt beneath her. One would think that if she were suffering agonies over believing others were better than her (ahem, *Rebecca*), that everyone was assessing her like she was a mare taken to market, that she would cast out an olive branch and try to be different herself. Nope. She feels superior over Ben "the idiot" (I really wished the author wouldn't keep writing "his sly squinting idiot eyes" but again that's just how times have changed) and at times over Frank Crawley as well, pitying him and his bachelor state from her lofty position of newlywed.
Let's also talk about her unwillingness to try to break her shell of shyness. I'm shy, it's hard, it's sometimes unpleasant but one does what one has to depending upon the circumstances. What does she do? She runs, she hides behind doors, she hides in shadows in hallways, peeping through the bannister. I expect that behavior out of a recalcitrant 10 year old, maybe I'll stretch to a moody 15 year old but let's remember, she's 21. Her idea of making an attempt is monosyllable answers that do not make a conversation or when she does come alive in conversation it is to ask inappropriate questions about her predecessor, Rebecca. All the while simultaneously claiming she doesn't want to know, she doesn't care to know... yet hungers after more answers. She day dreams her way through these encounters of how Rebecca would've done it better (and I believe she would've because, narrator, you're not even trying).
While I wished for (longed for) the ghost of Rebecca to walk whispering through the halls we quickly find out that Rebecca, namesake of the book and the haunting specter of Rebecca, is all in the narrator's mind (and in Mrs Danvers but she's getting her own paragraph later). It is the narrator's fear of being inadequate, unable to come abreast, let alone be on par with Rebecca that works her up into such a jealousy. It is her own vivid, rampant imagination that gives us these detailed descriptions of what Rebecca would do. (Maybe that should've been an alternative title What Would Rebecca Do? though likely that would be as told by Mrs Danvers and Frith) It is not Rebecca herself haunting the narrator or even the house but what the narrator has built her up to be. There are no photographs of Rebecca, only her things and only the snippets of description about the late Mrs. de Winter as told by the servants, Mrs. Danvers, Beatrice (the sister-in-law), Grandmother (who perhaps had the beginnings of dementia or Alzheimer's) and a handful of men who were in varying degrees in love/awe of the late mistress of Manderley. We have nothing of Rebecca herself beyond examples of her hand-writing in a dedication in a poetry book, her writing on pigeon holes in a desk, a diary of appointments and a brief note penned to her cousin Favell.
Which, after all that grousing about the unnamed narrator, brings me to what I liked about the book. I find I quite like the character of Rebecca. She keeps me thinking, keeps me wondering who she was, really. Her whole character is based entirely on people's opinions which is entirely subjective. We have accounts of her from the obsessed Mrs Danvers who to be fair, was still struggling with her own grief and disbelief and anger at her late mistress's rather sudden demise. We have accounts from cousin Favell who is generally drunk and perhaps not a reliable source. Maxim, being her murderer, of course is the least reliable source and the one from whom we get the most background information from (but of course he would try to justify his actions--murderers almost always have reasons for why they did it, usually trying to make themselves into the victims to draw sympathy).
There was actually an anecdote as described by Mrs Danvers of what she saw of Rebecca and Maxim, revolving him brushing out her hair in the early days of their marriage. They were both laughing and I wonder--did Mrs Danvers make that up in order to drive the narrator even further to jealousy? Or did that actually happen and if so--why would they be play-acting in front of Mrs Danvers? If she was as trusted by Rebecca as everyone said, wouldn't Mrs Danvers have been privy to their agreement? Or was the farce carried on even to that degree? Presuming it did happen--wasn't there a time when he was in love with her? She might've made the match based on the fact that it was the best one to make, perhaps the best on offer. Still I wonder.
Then there's the question of the unspeakable things she did. To mind, they're probably unspeakable to a man who was likely born in the late 1800s... so the late Victorian/Edwardian period and less so to the modern reader. Promiscuity perhaps. Cruelty to animals definitely (or at least, unruly stallions as the dogs seem to keep looking for her which means she wasn't atrocious towards them as they're not cowering with the memory of her). I mean, short of murdering people or perhaps some weird kinks, I can't help wonder what Rebecca did that was so unforgivable? Beyond cuckolding her husband? Clearly he felt it was worth murdering her for the notion that she would try to raise a baby born on the wrong side of the sheets to eventually inherit Manderley. (Granted that wasn't the case at all, but if she had been pregnant, as he believed her to be, that meant he killed the child in cold blood as well)
However, that means I'm growing into the narrator by dallying in hypothetical situations that do not exist. Funny how that wasn't enough to make the narrator bat an eyelash. He tells her he murdered a pregnant woman and all she can exult in is the idea that he never loved Rebecca, only her.
Quite frankly I feel that Mrs Danvers and the Narrator are not so different--only that their obsessions revolve around the opposite members of the previous marriage. Mrs Danvers, loves Rebecca (whether maternally or sexually is I suppose up to the reader's interpretation) and the Narrator loves Maxim de Winter. Maxim, being, well, alive, is the rock she can cling to whereas Mrs Danvers is at sea--Rebecca is gone, no matter how hard she tries to keep the memory of her alive by enshrining her bedroom, by following the groundwork for the running of the household as laid out by her late mistress.
Actually, I think the musical and the movie make Mrs Danvers out to be way more unhinged and obsessed than the book actually portrays her. I was forever expecting a dark shadow of a force of Mrs Danvers memory of Rebecca... and was a little disappointed. It wasn't as great as I expected. The Narrator seems to fear her more for her skeleton-like appearance than for her regard for Rebecca.
Yes, rather than set the house on fire and go down in flames with it (which is perhaps one of the more iconic moments in the film/musical, the moment one is waiting for, even) it's much more satisfying to me to think that Mrs Danvers packed up her things, sent them on to the train station and as a leaving touch set the house on fire. In the book she wasn't simply a woman deranged by grief and love, she was a woman getting her revenge for her mistress--and what an ultimate revenge that was against Maxim, to burn his beloved Manderley to the ground as it was arguably, the one thing he treasured above all else. To my mind, she probably didn't simply take her own things but likely some of Rebecca's things as well (I do believe she would be obsessed enough to at least take the nightgown and slippers or brushes or something as a keepsake). After all, the law was on Maxim's side. There was no justice for Rebecca's cold-blooded murder so its unsurprising to me that Mrs. Danvers took matters into her own hands and what a spectacular finish.
So, despite my waffling paragraphs of semi-ranting regarding all that I disliked... I did enjoy the book. Not the narrator, perhaps, but I love, as I mentioned before, the intrigue of Rebecca. How even as the narrator is an open book, so too is Rebecca open to interpretation. We know she was stunningly beautiful, tall, slim with a cloud of dark hair. She was charismatic and indomitable, she was courageous and fearless (except in the face of disease and old age). Maybe she was cruel too, perhaps without sense of remorse or sympathy, she made fun of those she entertained behind their backs, perhaps to entertain Mrs Danvers (perhaps to assuage Mrs Danvers own sense of jealousy?) We'll never know. This isn't to say I imagine Rebecca a sympathetic character--she might've been a raging bitch. I just don't think that makes her any less fascinating. I'll take her any day over the Narrator, who the author couldn't even be bothered to give a name. Mrs Danvers, I will always feel sorry for. She may be touch crazy-cakes but honestly, isn't that what makes her interesting? Whether we revile her, fear her or celebrate her even as she celebrates Rebecca?
Maybe once I get my hands on the Hitchcock film and some of the TV dramas floating around I'll watch them again and then revisit the book for a second time to see if any of my opinions change.
Perhaps I read too many murder mysteries/follow too many murder cases not to feel a little indignant on Rebecca's behalf. Still, this is a great gothic novel and I can see why it's considered a classic. It's atmospheric to the point of being claustrophobic the deeper one gets into the story. It may be a little slow to start (but that could've been my impatience to get to Manderley) but once the mystery starts unraveling... it's like a snowball down a mountain. If you like gothic mysteries, if you like the indistinct 1920s-1930s England, if you like creepy housekeepers and psychological drama... I would give this book a read.(less)
**spoiler alert** What to say about this one? Intertwined stories with an underlying sense of something sinister? Perhaps leaving one with the expecta...more**spoiler alert** What to say about this one? Intertwined stories with an underlying sense of something sinister? Perhaps leaving one with the expectation that something yet worse is to come? Some of the stories start off innocuous enough only to betray themselves a dozen sentences later, usually with a rather startling admission.
There is a subtlety and ambiguity to Ogawa's writing which is typically Japanese. Very rarely do we get a character name and if we do it's usually an initial alone (Dr. Y, Mrs. J) Sometimes even the gender of the narrator is not precisely evident (come to think of it, this may be a statement only true to the English translation as in the Japanese version it may be apparent as there are different gender-based ways to say "I"). Even the character descriptions and locations are vague, usually with enough given to define the person but also leaving much to our imagination. These stories could take place almost anywhere, these characters could be almost anyone. Maybe that's what the author wants us to think--to second guess the girl behind the counter at the bakery, the beautician who cuts our hair, the receptionist at the hospital. Many of the stories start off like a fairy tale and even the ones that don't still have that quality to the story-telling.
All in all, I very much liked the book and I in fact wish there had been more of these strange little stories than the eleven we were treated to. I will definitely check out the other books she has written.(less)
Dear Dexter, you sure spend a lot of time addressing yourself. Maybe it's a sociopath thing. Hopefully alliteration isn't a sociopath thing too becaus...moreDear Dexter, you sure spend a lot of time addressing yourself. Maybe it's a sociopath thing. Hopefully alliteration isn't a sociopath thing too because I noticed you did quite a bit of that.
I've actually never watched the TV series--something I keep meaning to get around to but never manage so I was happy to read the book. It's a fun, especially with Dexter's quippy, dry running commentary. It did get a little redundant, him reminding us he's (mostly) void of emotions but I guess he's like Santa in that respect and has to make sure everything is double-triple-checked twice. Per Harry's Law, of course.
It's actually not as gory as one might think. Most of the descriptions are left up to the imaginations of the reader with just the barest hint or description given when it comes to the murders themselves. So even though mutilations and so forth may happen, the author doesn't dwell. Which I suppose makes sense, given his leading man doesn't care one fig how the victim's nervous system is handling the damage.
I'll read the next one anyway and maybe one day I'll actually sit down and watch the series too.(less)