review

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

rebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Modern Library, 1938

I borrowed my copy from the library.

I’m trying to read older books on occasion, and I picked Rebecca because of the title and because I mistakenly thought it was published in 1939, which was last month’s pick for a classic crime meme hosted by Rich at Past Offences. While I’ve read/watched Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, somehow I’ve missed both the book and the movie of du Maurier’s well-known work. I was vaguely aware of a couple plot points before I started reading, and my copy’s cover is a bit too obvious about the plot, but that didn’t detract from the reading experience.

What struck me most about the reading experience was how incredibly slow the first 200 pages– roughly 2/3 of the book– went. The story in the first two thirds of the book is the story of Maxim de Winter meeting his second wife in Monte Carlo where she is a poor, young companion to a society maven. Another large chunk of the story is devoted to Manderley and de Winter’s first wife, who mysteriously drowned a year before the events of the book. It’s a story about idle rich people keeping up appearances for most of the story, and I found myself wondering when anything would happen in the book. I think the sense of claustrophobia is intentional: the new Mrs. de Winter is trapped at Manderley, married to someone she doesn’t know well, without a lot of options.

I’m not the biggest fan of gothic novels, but this one kept my interest. Jane Eyre did as well, but I didn’t love either of them. I think the writing is quite good, but I prefer stories with a bit of humor, and Rebecca seemed awfully serious to me.

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15 thoughts on “Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier”

  1. As always, I appreciate your candor, Rebecca. I agree with you that gothic novels often don’t have wit in them. The suspense can keep you turning pages, though. And this is one of those classic examples of that sort of novel.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Margot: I’m glad I read the book because I’d like to read more classics and because it was well-written, but it’s not the kind of book I reach for first. Now on to the movie!

  2. Gothics tend to be slower paced I think in order to build up atmosphere. I read all of Victoria’s Holt’s stuff (almost all) and some of Mary Stewart’s work. I enjoyed Rebecca as well and haven’t read anything else from her so I will have to make a point to try her again.

    1. There are a lot of du Maurier novels to choose from, and I think she’s a good writer as well. The most contemporary gothics I’ve tried I’ve abandoned after the first chapter usually, but I did finish The Thirteenth Tale for book club (I was a little underwhelmed). I’m not saying I hate all gothic novels, but it’s not my favorite kind of read. Maybe I’ll watch more adaptations instead?

  3. I’ve read quite a lot of Daphne du Maurier’s work, and have loved almost all of it. Rebecca is among my favourites. (Perhaps my favourite of all of them is The House on the Strand. My Cousin Rachel is pretty stunning too. Oh, and Jamaica Inn. And . . .)

    Sally Beauman wrote a pretty damn’ fine quasi-sequel (really a riff on the original) called Rebecca’s Tale (2001). Susan Hill has done a sequel too.

    And, no, I don’t find the first 200 pages slow. By about page 10, every time I read this novel, I’m completely transfixed.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations!

      The beginning felt slow but not plodding to me: it just struck me how much was atmosphere and set-up in the first two hundred pages until the costume party scene. I tend to read lots of fast-paced stuff so it stuck out for me.

  4. I read this a couple of years ago and have to admit to being underwhelmed – it was very slow and (to me) dull. I found myself almost ‘barracking’ for Mrs Danvers even though she was an evil cow…but at least she showed some emotion – the rest of them were cold fish.

  5. This is one I want to read someday, but not in a rush. Maybe I read it years ago, who knows. Thanks for the review, your honesty about the book was useful.

    1. Have you seen the movie version? I’ll have to find it: I think it would be a good story condensed to a couple hours instead of reading it over several more hours.

      1. The Hitchcock movie’s a knockout: a classic. Also very well worth catching are some TV versions: 1997 (Charles Dance as Maxim), 1979 (Jeremy Brett) and 1962 (James Mason).

      2. We have the movie version, and that is one reason I want to read the book… to do a book to movie comparison. I like the movie fine; my husband is tepid about it. I would not mind checking out the TV versions, which I was unaware of.

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