First published in 1938
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Short Of It:
Atmospheric and a bit creepy, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations for "a tale of suspense."
The Long Of It:
I'd been meaning to read "Rebecca," Daphne du Maurier's famous gothic novel, for ages, and I had always intended to curl up with it on a blustery October day under a blanket, mug of coca in my hand. I ended up reading it with my toes in the sand in Hawaii -- which was actually ok, because the book wasn't as eerie or as suspenseful as I had imagined, and it made for fine beach reading.
Maybe I've been spoiled for classic thrillers by edge-of-my-seat, gasp-inducing "Gone Girl" and the like, and it's quite probable that "Rebecca" was very shocking and suspenseful when it was published in the 1930s. But I had higher expectations after seeing how well-loved and highly recommended it is. I do have to say that it was surprisingly readable for a book written nearly 80 years ago and I did enjoy the prose, as well as the vivid descriptions of the setting.
The story begins when our narrator is working as a companion to a wealthy old woman; she's accompanied her employer on holiday to Monte Carlo when she meets Maxim de Winter, partakes in whirlwind romance and ends up wed to the handsome, rich widower nearly old enough to be her father. The two return to Manderley, the de Winter estate in Cornwall, but wedded bliss does not ensue.
Rather, Maxim's deceased wife Rebecca and the memory of her lauded life and tragic death cast a pall over everything at Manderley -- and most especially on the narrator herself. She's incessantly informed that Rebecca was stunningly gorgeous, brilliant, kind and beloved by all, and the shy and youthfully naive Mrs. de Winter #2 feels that she cannot possibly compete for her husband's affections when held up against the bright flame of Rebecca. This notion is only encouraged by Manderley's housekeeper, who is utterly -- excessively -- devoted to her former mistress, such that she has faithfully preserved Rebecca's bedroom exactly as it was on her last day, down to the last hair in her brush.
Strange and disturbing happenings ensue. Our narrator has an increasingly rough time of it. Manderley's beautiful gardens and stunning architecture take on a sinister cast. And all is not as it seems. I won't say more at risk of spoiling the plot, which is indeed enigmatic if not entirely thrilling -- it took quite a while for me to figure out whether I was reading a ghost story, a mystery or something else entirely.
The plot didn't quite have me on the edge of my seat, I found the story a bit slow at times, and our daydream-y narrator (whose first name we never learn -- ergh!) was a bit irritating in the first half of the novel -- but I'm still glad I read it, and I wouldn't discourage any potential readers. It was a wonderfully atmospheric tale with a creative plot, and I still can't get over the fact that this suspense novel was written by a woman in 1938 -- that alone makes it worth a read!