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Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier – Book Review

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It’s the end of the month again, and the time for the book club with Rory. The book we read and reviewed this month is Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier, a novel published in the late 30s and turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. I have seen the film many years ago, but had by now forgotten most of it, except that I had a vague idea it was a gothic novel and it dealt with the theme of jealousy, which I found fascinating. If you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now.

The book is so elegantly written it reminded me of the style of Edith Wharton, and it was of course a winner with me. The pace of the mystery is appropriate, and the twists truly unexpected (although not so much for the fact he seems to truly love his new wife, you can guess she is being paranoid in her jealousy even before it all becomes clear and even without knowing the overarching theme of the novel is jealousy). The second wife’s character is intriguing in her naivete, but given her age and the age difference with her husband it seems natural. She still puzzles me for not questioning whether her husband was right in what he did, as I find that goes beyond youthful blind love. How did she, who has been so insecure for so long, just trust that she wouldn’t end at the bottom of the sea herself?

Her husband is a fascinating character, as obviously he’s hiding a secret which for most of the novel seems to be simply that he remarried for no good reason and is still in love with his late wife, partly because of the second wife (who is the narrator) own insecurities and how everybody else actually talks about Rebecca. The rude, boastful and clueless Mrs Van Hopper really kicked the poor girl’s confidence in the gutter from the start (she reminds me so much of my aunt), so she didn’t really stand a chance even without the psycopath housekeeper and demands of being the lady of a house of that kind.

The continuous reinforcing of Mrs de Winter’s insecurities compared to the shoes she has to fill becomes almost unbelievable at some point: did this woman have no fault at all? I guess it could be that all conversations were filtered through her successor, but I stll think that she was scheming and clearly manipulated the way people saw her. After all, what do you expect from someone who was scared of a long death to the point she did not fight but pretty much dared her coleric husband to kill her when she found out she had cancer? Also how did no one really seem to suspect she had so many lovers? Of course she looked perfect, she had curated the perfect personal brand before Instagram and the internet were even a thing!

Another fascinated aspect in the novel is the way justice was enforced by the magistrate. De Winter pretty much says that the magistrate knew the truth about Rebecca’s death but still went along with the verdict of suicide even before the doctor said she was going to die soon anyway. I demand a spinoff where we are told what truly happened with that, and why he seemed happy to go along to keep some guy from being hanged for something he actually did, without having any skin in the game himself. How does no one seem to think there is anything wrong with covering a murder except for the lover who really just wants revenge (but in the end can only get it against Manderley)? I will die with these questions spinning around my head, I tell you.

From a stylistic point of view though, I love a good suspended ending (although since the beginning of the novel is after the events of the ending as the novel recounts the events that lead to the exile of the De Winters abroad it isn’t really suspended) and the poetic and symbolic quality of the couple returning home to a fiery red sky from the blazes engulfing their home after he was cleared of suspicion of murder is a really nice touch that makes up for the weaker points in what is nonetheless a gripping and well-written story to occupy an afternoon (it takes about 3 hours and a half cover to cover).

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