My friend Ali, who is running a Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week this week, has always been somewhat scandalised that I haven’t read any DDM novels in my fairly long and substantial reading life so far – and I’m not quite sure how that happened, either. Anyway, I very fortuitously won a copy of “Rebecca” in her giveaway during her Week last year, and saved it up for this year. Isn’t it a lovely edition! Then, I received a copy of “Jamaica Inn” in my Not So Secret Santa gift from my LibraryThing Virago Group gift-giver, and I’m reading that at the moment, too. I will admit to reading “Rebecca” at the start of the month and holding the review over, as I didn’t want to over-egg the Du Maurier pudding.

Weirdly, although this is one of those books you feel you know already – and I did know the first line – I was extremely vague on even the most basic details of the plot apart from a second wife trying to fill the shoes of a very large character who even takes the title over. So I came to it pretty new. But how do you review a book that everyone else has read???

Daphne Du Maurier – “Rebecca”

(09 June 2019)

A completely engaging and absorbing novel where I have to say you feel you are in safe and highly competent hands from the very beginning, setting the scene for our young heroine to be swept off her naive and rather isolated feet. As it wound up tightly to its conclusion, I really couldn’t put it down and ended up sitting up late over it – again, after doing that with “The Authenticity Project”!

The first dream sequence sets us up rather filmicly for a mysterious disappearance from a grand house, with the ordinariness of the things left behind suggesting some huge break or event in a normal life (and it worried me about the dog that appears – fear not, is all I will say there). It prepares us for a puzzle, before we’re whipped off to the Monte Carlo hotel and our nameless heroine’s life of drudgery as a companion.

Frank the estate manager was my favourite character in the novel, that note of normality who appears in all the best Gothic novels, so kind and helpful that I was hoping through the book that he was the companion mentioned at the start. He reminded me of Hardy’s reddleman or Jenkin Riderhood in Murdoch’s “The Book and the Brotherhood” in his simple and behind the scenes faith and work. Who wouldn’t want to have this said about them:

I’m a bachelor, I don’t know very much about women, I lead a quiet sort of life down here at Manderley as you know, but I should say that kindness, and sincerity, and – if I may say so – modesty are worth far more to a man, to a husband, than all the wit and beauty in the world. (p. 148)

From the start, we agonise with the nameless and shy heroine as she tries to take on the running of a beautiful and complicated house and estate, always being reminded of how the beautiful and forceful Rebecca did things, and of course undermined at all turns by the terrifying Mrs Danvers (her passive-aggressive controlling was so expertly described, like the flip-side of all those wartime tales of troubles with the staff) and we start to wonder – with her – why Maxim married her.

The nailbiting conclusion compels you to keep reading. The many references to people seeming to be acting in a play foreshadow the film’s success, and the whole is a masterpiece that fits together beautifully. I’m very glad I’ve finally read it!

I’ve started reading “Jamaica Inn” at the time of writing this (Sat-Sun) and what an amazingly Gothic opening. It’s saying Hardy and Webb to me at the moment, which is pleasing. I will report back by the end of Ali’s Week, I hope!