The subtitle "a Victorian Novel"--along with the lovely cover--were enough to ensnare me. I lugged this darling home from England in my suitcase and tThe subtitle "a Victorian Novel"--along with the lovely cover--were enough to ensnare me. I lugged this darling home from England in my suitcase and thankfully it did not disappoint! (Yes, I often buy books for covers alone…)
This book is told in a series of narratives from three different character perspectives and I will say it's a wee bit slow to start, but what mystery isn't as the foundations need to be set? I also loved the historical references, especially as I love the Victorian's predilection with death and the afterlife. But when the setting has haunted houses/houses with a tragic past, top hats and tailcoats, stormy nights, séances and ghosts.... what more could I ask for really? I'm trying not to spoil anything but I will note that I found the ending predictable, but I don't think I would've wanted it any other way. I am definitely going to keep an eye out for more works from this author....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 w**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....more
This one started off very slowly, so much so in fact that I feared I would run screaming from all the financial journal investigating figures that werThis one started off very slowly, so much so in fact that I feared I would run screaming from all the financial journal investigating figures that were frankly doing my head in. Once the story and the characters start to come together though, boy does it roll like a snowball down a mountain. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting at the end but even a few days later I feel...dissatisfied somehow with one of the more minor aspects of the store. Okay, maybe two aspects but I don't want to spoil anyone.
Having said all that, I still really enjoyed the mystery aspect, especially towards the last quarter of the book. Now I've got to go find the Swedish film and watch it before I see the American remake. ...more
Having only read one of her mysteries before, I must say I was pleased with this one too (though it is certainly a slower boil than Behold, Here's PoiHaving only read one of her mysteries before, I must say I was pleased with this one too (though it is certainly a slower boil than Behold, Here's Poison) as her characters are always delightful, the dialogue/banter witty and engaging and one can't help but feel very sorry for the Inspectors having to deal with this particular set of melodramatic country gentry. The one bad thing about reading this mystery however is that I spent the first part of the book waiting for one of the character's to die in order for the mystery to begin. I'm also impressed that the inspectors of the time where able to accomplish anything in (or around the 1920s-30s) when one considers how they would have to circumvent the social class biases and the hurdles that come with it in order to get anything done. Occasionally the phrase "obstruction of justice" came to mind whilst reading some of the interactions.
As for the characters... While she tried to disclaim Wally as ineffectual rather than an awful human being, I was rather relieved when he kicked the can. It took me a while to warm to Vicky but I found her amusing in the end, very much the dramatic teenager just out of school (though she does take her drama to quite appalling levels and I shouldn't like to know anyone like her personally). Finally, when I was glancing at some other reviews, I was surprised that some of the other readers were shocked by some of the eventual pairings. Maybe it was just me being hopeful throughout but I was quite pleased with how things ended up for the characters....more
I finished reading this a while ago, just kept forgetting to update this over here. I actually saw this as a movie first when I was about seven yearsI finished reading this a while ago, just kept forgetting to update this over here. I actually saw this as a movie first when I was about seven years old and it scared the pants off of me and gave me nightmares for weeks. I saw it again when I was nine years old and loved it (as I was really into ghosts at the time) but when I was eleven, while I still loved it, it gave me a nightmare of the woman in black flying through my bedroom door screaming.
Woman in Black, you are one scary lady to stay with me this long.
I saw the movie recently (which inspired me to find and read the book) and I couldn't help but laugh at the effects that awed and terrified me as a child though the basic plot is very evocative--it sort of stays with you in a way that keeps one laying awake at night, replaying the images again and again of the mirror like marshes reflecting the moon on their glass like surfaces before the impenetrable fog and mist rolls in, the clatter of the pony and cart, the screaming of a child and the woman in black watching. Possibly even, watching you.
As for the book itself it was a little slow to start, perhaps because I was anxiously waiting for the Woman, but I was rewarded because it is a slow build, stacking the creepiness of the surroundings, the isolation and the malevolence of the haunting into one overwhelming, if inevitable, finish. A very good ghost story, in my opinion, but again I may be a little biased as I have loved the movie for a very long time....more
I don't know if I'll be able to convey just how badly written/edited/constructed this book is but boy will I make a valiant effort.
If I could give thI don't know if I'll be able to convey just how badly written/edited/constructed this book is but boy will I make a valiant effort.
If I could give this a negative star-rating I would choose a -10 for "don't-bother-save-yourself-the-trouble/money-and-just-say-NO-before-you-start-banging-your-head-on-the-wall-after-every-chapter". I even had a dream (before I finished the book) about writing a review giving it a negative-star review because, yes, it IS that bad. If I hadn't been participating in a book reading challenge I would've tossed this book into a bonfire after chapter 2 and not persevered with this rubbish.
Which, honestly is a shame. I naively thought, "Hmm, lighthouses, I like lighthouses". Goodbye lighthouse after Chapter 2 (I don't really count the nonsense with Josephine because at that point it became, "Oh, she's not been angsting for five sentences LET'S GIVE HER A REASON TO MOAN ABOUT HER LIFE AGAIN").
Was it necessary for the author to vomit Addie's back-story/mystery/Mary-Sue-character-introduction at us within the first two chapters? Oh, sorry, I guess it WAS necessary to neglect writing a proper mystery set-up when clearly all the author cares about (God aside which I'll get to later), was the ridiculous romance between John and Addie where, naturally, the first moment they lay eyes upon one another they're in love. Does the author, at least, show us how these two people could fall in love? Does the author bother to show us how and why the reader should like her characters? The answers are no and no. Most of the cast are two-dimensional at best and I'm sorry to say we are generally told what to think about the main characters. Addie is an "angel in skirts" but are we truly shown any outstandingly angelic behavior on her part? No and no, I do not count the arbitrary/unnecessary mother-of-five-has-consumption-woe-child-labor-in-1907 episode on the grounds that it was so obviously contrived (and utterly left-field in its bizarre placement). Is John really anything beyond the physical impulses Addie stirs in him (and what's the point of giving him a dead wife if all she does is serve as a point of comparison, oh, did we mention his wife is Addie's half-sister/cousin, daughter of her mother's half-sister and therefore her half-aunt/step-mother)?
Anyway, before I derail any further into churlish commentary, the author neglects developing her characters in favor galloping into the lack-luster arms of the romance. In fact, EVERYTHING she set up in those first two horrifically convoluted chapters takes a back-burner. Epileptic child is neglected in favor of the romance, pony and horse are neglected in the random horseback riding scene (Oh yes, let's not forget the "thankyousomuch for almost killing my child on a run away pony, it taught him to be brave" scene because clearly someone's not read Gone With the Wind and seen how that pony scene goes down) and estranged Dad, well, sorry Mr Eaton, you just get systematically turned into a stereotypical petty villain.
That aside, I still thought, "Hmm, she's got some nice minute detail in here about the historical period".
Does it make up for her glaring and sometimes contradictory continuity errors? Does it make up for her grammatical errors? Does it make up for the terrible transitions that make me wonder "what was the point of you writing out that scene if each interaction was a sentence long and you just breezed through three different people"? Is that worth wanting to gouge my eyeballs out every time John/Addie decide to talk about how wonderful/attractive/insert-syrupy-adjective-here the other is? I honestly started feeling like I was reading Twilight at times with all the ridiculous mooning.
Also the God-issue. Was it really-truly-ABSOLUTELY necessary to throw in God and her Faith every five seconds? I've read plenty of Victorian novels written by preachers' daughters and other Christian authors that have managed to get across the moral-point and not had to resort to flaunting weirdly and jarringly placed God-conversations/observations/questions-to-God. Or the mind-boggling fact that one of the characters then started saying "God might be punishing someone so, don't intervene".... Excuse me, WHAT? Are we now manipulating Faith for plot-points, to justify the characters bizarre behavior? She keeps going on and on about her faith but I'm still questioning the ramifications of her STEALING PROPERTY, DECEIVING, oh, sorry, God's on her side (because she asked him five seconds ago, dontcha know) so it's okay that the characters just committed the time-period equivalent of grand-theft-auto.
I could go on. Seriously. But I won't. Please, save yourself from this grandiose waste of time and just don't bother with this book....more
I pretty much reviewed each short story in my updates as I finished them, excepting Sand which was the last of stories in this collection so I guess II pretty much reviewed each short story in my updates as I finished them, excepting Sand which was the last of stories in this collection so I guess I'll start there. I didn't like it so much, found it terribly difficult to get into, the characters seeming very vague and indistinct to me. I suppose I was also (unfairly) expecting some blockbuster-esque sand dramatics whereas Blackwood is a little bit more subtle/metaphysical/spiritual than what I was hoping for.
Overall, I liked some of the stories (Glamour of the Snow, Ancient Sorceries and Man Who Found Out) and was bored to tears by other of the stories (the Man Whom the Trees Loved and Sand). Mostly (oddly?) I quite liked the footnotes which in some cases afforded a more in-depth look about each piece. ...more
Butterfly Effect and emotionally dysfunctional family is all I could think, where someone has a Big Secret and it eats at the character throughout theButterfly Effect and emotionally dysfunctional family is all I could think, where someone has a Big Secret and it eats at the character throughout the novel but somehow this secret touches everyone beyond the person it directly effects, basically ruining their lives. One must wait until the end to get the Big Reveal, in regards to the drowning. Both Ruth and Amanda (the two quasi-narrators, when the text isn't busy jumping back and forth between third person perspective and the first person perspective) are seriously emotionally constipated but also clingy to the point of smothering. On the one hand I'm inclined to blame the grandmother (yes I'm still looking for that insanity bit, passing on through the generations) but all she wanted was a bit of peace and quiet whereas the other two had major issues of letting go. Well, and maybe they were a little neurotic too.
I guess I'm just disappointed because I was simply hoping for a book about a woman who went crazy, tried to drown her daughter and drowned instead. I was hoping that's where it was going in the first couple of chapters but then it went somewhere else completely. Ah well. Maybe next time....more
What fun this one was! Perhaps the fact I was so tickled was due in part to the setting taking place in Transylvania, in ol' Vlad the Impaler's castleWhat fun this one was! Perhaps the fact I was so tickled was due in part to the setting taking place in Transylvania, in ol' Vlad the Impaler's castle, no less... Poor Georgiana, getting into the thick of mischief and mayhem wherever she goes, when all she wants is a good meal (oh and Darcy, but who can blame her). She really ought to become Queen Mary's personal SS what with all the problems she's been left to solve. Queenie, the hapless maid, also grew on me as the book progressed.
As a mystery I have to say that it's easy light reading and not anything one has to think too long or hard about but still enjoyable nonetheless. Just sit back and enjoy the humor. ...more
**spoiler alert** My rating for this book hovered somewhere between a 3 and a 4 star. On the one hand it comes to the predictable and, in many ways, i**spoiler alert** My rating for this book hovered somewhere between a 3 and a 4 star. On the one hand it comes to the predictable and, in many ways, inevitable conclusion but on the other, I liked that third layer created by the narrator who (rather than being passive in the telling of someone else's story) in many ways orchestrates the entire fiasco, what with his god-complex and obsessions. I suppose, at the end of the day, there wasn't anything redeeming about the narrative, it was simply a snapshot of lives being torn asunder by passion and apathy (yes, Stella, I am looking at YOU). People like her should not have children... And Peter, Mr Narrator sir, at the end of the day, despite the psychopaths you "treat" in the hopes of "rehabilitation", you were, by far, the creepiest. I can understand why people sometimes call the psychiatric trade a sham business.
In terms of style and the way the story was laid out... yes, I do appreciate the neatness of the ending, the coming full circle....more