Back from the Backlist · Reviews

Back from the Backlist!! Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Working as a paid companion to a bitter elderly lady, the timid heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life is bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise.

Whisked from Monte Carlo to Manderley, Maxim’s isolated Cornish estate, the friendless young bride begins to realise she barely knows her husband at all. And in every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca.

Rebecca has been on my TBR for a VERY long time. It’s one of those books that I’ve attempted to read on several occasions but just never quite gelled with, despite being told by many of my fellow readers that it’s their favourite of Du Maurier’s novels. I struggled to get past the opening section and got annoyed by the insipid main character. Friends assured me that it got better once I got to Manderley – and that the shock of the ending along made the book worth reading – but I just couldn’t give myself the push to continue.

So when the chance came to take part in a readalong of Rebecca with some members of the lovely gang over at The Write Reads, I joined in without hesitation. Reading with others is a fantastic way to tackle a book that you might otherwise struggle with. I recently read James Joyce’s doorstop modernist novel Ulysses with some friends at university this way and, whilst I can’t claim to have loved (or even fully understood) the novel, our discussions of it certainly allowed me to appreciate it – plus we had a great deal of fun!

And my verdict having now finished Rebecca. It’s…okay?

Surprisingly, I found myself quite enjoying the opening sections in Monte Carlo this time around. I got a real sense of the era but, more importantly, these early chapters gave me an insight into the unnamed narrator. Barely out of school and wholly lacking in confidence, she is utterly unsuited to life in a glamourous resort – or as mistress of a large country house. There is almost no pretence about her about all and, in her honest naivety, she came across as a schoolgirl acting a part – an impression that lingers even after she has married the brooding Maxim de Winter and found herself mistress of his imposing estate, Manderley, and learned of the tragic death of his first wife, the titular Rebecca.

As the famous opening line suggests, Manderley is a character as much as a place within this novel. It lies at the heart of everything that happens in the novel, lingering in the background to each conversation and casting its shadow over the choices of the characters. Whilst is is, in one sense, a beautiful place – described in lush prose and quite clearly based on Du Maurier’s own much-loved Cornish home Menabilly – there is something quite forbidding about Manderley and it is this mixture of the seemingly ordinary with the sinister that I found particularly impressive about the novel.

Du Maurier is a master of suspense and foreboding and this atmosphere casts a pall over the whole novel. I found it particularly impressive that the most vivid character in the book was Rebecca, a woman who is dead before the first page. Rebecca haunts the novel – and the reader – as she haunts Maxim and his second wife. Rebecca is a ghost story, even though the ghost never actually appears.

Whilst all this makes Rebecca an intensely atmospheric novel there was, for me anyway, just something missing. Whilst I love the way in which Rebecca herself is evoked, I felt this came at the expense of characterisation elsewhere. The narrator, for example, never really seems to escape the dreamy world of the schoolgirl, diving off into fantasies and gloomy premonitions and second-guessing everything that anyone ever does. Even after the revelation in the closing chapters (my friends were right – it IS a great twist), she still felt like a character wholly disconnected from the events going on around her and, at times, from reality itself.

The infamous Mrs Danvers is, of course, an utter delight to read. Deliciously malevolent, her presence at Manderley was always going to be a catalyst for sinister happenings. Maxim de Winter, on the other hand, came across as a frightful bore – brooding and quick to anger, he had few redeeming features and I genuinely couldn’t see the appeal, even after you learn about his true history. Other characters felt fleeting – sketches more than fully rounded people – and, often, I felt they were there to serve the plot or provide a convenient deus ex machina. This was particularly true of the ending which, though shocking, did feel somewhat contrived.

This probably makes it sound as if I didn’t enjoy Rebecca and that isn’t true. There is a lot that I liked about the novel and I certainly had an excellent time reading it and then debating it with my The Write Reads friends! But, alas, I didn’t love it. I can see why others adore it – and it really does have a killer twist – but it for me, it’s not up there with my favourites. I am very glad to have finally read it though so thank you to The Write Reads gang for keeping me going and providing some fun conversation along the way!

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is published by Virago and is available from all good bookshops and online retailers. If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Book Tags

The Summer Bucket List Book Tag

Summer might be coming to an end (although you wouldn’t know if from the glorious sunshine we’ve had in the UK the last few days) but that doesn’t mean an end to summery thoughts!

I got tagged in the Summer Bucket List Book tag by the wonderful @_forbookssake some weeks ago but have only just got caught up enough on blog tours, overdue reviews, and PhD writing to be able to take part. The tag was created by @readbytiffany.

Hit the Beach: a book set by the sea

I’m going to go with Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier because (whisper it) I haven’t read it yet.

Terrible, I know and I really must rectify that. It’s one of my Mum’s favourite books and she bought me the GORGEOUS 80th anniversary edition so I have a copy sitting on my shelf. I’ve just never quite found the right time to read it although, with a new adaptation coming to Netflix this autumn, now might be the perfect opportunity!

Anyway, despite not having read Rebecca (yet), I do know that it’s the sea plays quite a crucial part in the plot. The novel opens in Monte Carlo, by the glistening waters of the Mediterranean, and the famous Manderley has lawns stretching down to the sea – and to a seaside hut that hides terrible secrets.

Watch Fireworks: a book that had a fiery romance

I don’t read a huge amount of romance but I do enjoy a good romance subplot in other genres of literature so for this one I’m going to pick Ambrose Parry’s The Way of All Flesh, the first in a series of historical mysteries that follow medical student Will Raven and housemaid Sarah Fisher.

Will and Sarah make for an unlikely couple – he thinks she’s too clever for her own good and her first impressions are that he’s an arrogant little upstart – but they soon realise that their combined intellects will make them formidable foes for Edinburgh’s criminal underworld.

Go For A Road Trip: a book that involves a journey

Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is one of my favourite novels (and one of the few books I’ve re-read more than once) and involves an epic journey that takes our protagonists from the dreaming spires of Oxford, through Eastern Europe and across to Istanbul.

It’s a glorious romp of a novel that combines a poignant coming-of-age tale with an elegant literary mystery. Throw in a series of adventures, a hidden family history, and a deadly, possibly immortal enemy, and you’ve got a page-turning novel that ticked all of my boxes.

Camp Under The Stars: a book that had you starstruck

The talent and craftsmanship of authors is a continual delight to me but the most recent read that utterly bowled me over was Bernardine Evaristo’s masterful Girl, Woman, Other.

A thoroughly deserving winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other captivated me with its exuberant portrayal of black lives in Britain today. Told from the perspectives of twelve very different characters, this novel teems with life.

As the characters grapple with the ever-present spectre of racism, interrogate their own sense of gendered and cultural identities, and develop connections that cross the boundaries of generations, class, culture, and race, Girl, Woman, Other masterfully interrogates and explores the multitudes of modern-day Britain.

Marathon Some Movies: a book you couldn’t put down

Again, there are many books that could have filled this category but, most recently, Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars had me utterly captivated for days.

You can read my full review here but, in brief, Things in Jars is an enthralling blend of detective story, personal journey, and magical realism and it’s heroine, the indomitable Bridie Divine, is one of the best literary creations I think I’ve ever read.

Go Out For An Ice Cream: a book with a sweet romance

As I said earlier, I don’t read a huge amount of romance but there is the occasional sweet romance to be found in other genres.

My favourite is probably the one that develops between quiet, self-effacing merchant Jonah Hancock and vivacious, spoilt courtesan Angelica Neal in Imogen Hermes Gower’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a joyful romp of a novel that delights in the eccentricities of eighteenth-century life.

I’ve reviewed this one in full on The Shelf so do check that out here for more details of this fabulous novel!

Picnic In The Park: a book that was a breath of fresh air

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games came along at just the right time for me. I’d been reading a lot of quite heavy eighteenth-century literature for my PhD and, as a result, was in a bit of a book slump when it came to my recreational reading.

I tend not to read a lot of YA but The Inheritance Games, with it’s combination of clever Knives Out style puzzling, sizzling teen romance, rich-people problems, and family intrigue had me feverishly turning the pages! It was the perfect refresher after long days at my desk.

Again, a full review is available here!

Go For A Hike: a character who conquered an obstacle

I’m choosing another book from my TBR here: Cash Carraway’s memoir Skint Estate.

Whilst I haven’t yet read Cash’s memoir, I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh last summer and was astounded by the obstacles that she had overcome.

Alone, pregnant, and living in a women’s refuse, Cash was unable to vote in the 2010 general election that ushered the age of austerity into Britain. Despite being one of the people most likely to be impacted by the proposed cuts, her voice had been silenced.

Living below the poverty line and trapped in a brutal cycle of universal credit, zero-hours contracts, rising rents, and public service cuts, Cash struggled to bring up her daughter in a society that seemed determined to reduce her – and those like her – to a working-class stereotype. Her memoir promises to be a raw and cutting recollection of these struggles, and of Cash’s refusal to be beaten down and her determination to stay afloat in a world designed for you to sink.

Grill Some BBQ: a book featuring delicious food

As if I could choose anything other than Joanne Harris’ Chocolat for this prompt!

This magical novel, the first in Harris’ series set in and around the small village of Lansquenet and featuring the mysterious Vianne Rocher, involves – as the name suggests – chocolate.

When newcomer Vianne opens a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent, she finds herself at odds with local priest Father Reynaud. But whilst her non-attendance at church and her ability to read tarot lead to her ostracisation by the more devout members of the village, Vianne’s vivacity and generosity soon begins to attract the more eclectic members of the community.

Chocolat is a joyously vivid novel that revels in the celebration of giving in to our desires, following our dreams and enjoying a little bit of what you fancy. Just don’t try to read it without your favourite sweet treat to hand!

Watch The Sunrise: a book that inspired you

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was both revelatory and inspirational.

As an introvert then working in an extroverted sales environment, it was sometimes difficult to get my opinions heard or my skillset valued. Quiet showed me that I didn’t need to be controlling a conversation in order to make observations within it, that listening can be as valuable as speaking, and that innovation can come from moments of solitude.

Drawing on a mixture of personal experience, scientific enquiry, and anecdotal evidence, Quiet showed how introverts like me are a valuable (although often under-valued) part of a workforce and allowed me to become at ease with my need for silence and space in a world that, sometimes, feels overwhelmingly loud.

I hope you enjoyed reading my entry into the Summer Bucket List Book Tag and thank you again to Danni at @_forbookssake for tagging me! As summer is coming to an end, I’m not going to tag anyone in this tag myself but, if you do want to have a go at the tag, please do so and please do tag back to this post and to the original creator!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!