I’ve owned a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for over a year now. I loved the movie, and felt the urge to read the book. I also don’t read enough classics. So I was thrilled that this month not only was Rebecca picked as the book club selection, but was also part of a read-a-long and qualified for my Dusty Reads Challenge… and a few others. I listened to both the (extremely) abridged audio cd and read the unabridged novel.
I loved this book. We shall call the main character Unusual Named One (Uno for short), since her name is never given and the only mention of it is that it’s unusual. There’s lots of times in the book I just wanted to slap her silly, there were times I cringed at how timid she was, times I simply wanted to see Mrs. Danvers shove her out a window.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that on some level I can completely identify with Uno. She’s young, as I once was, she’s poor, as I still am, and incredibly naive, as I still can be on occasion. Uno is swept off her feet by rich, older and worldly Maxim de Winter. The fact that she falls for him so fast and completely is realistic, Uno has no family, no friends and a crappy harpy-like employer Mrs. Van Hopper. I can easily imagine the relief that she feels that someone like Maxim would ask her to be his wife, just as I can easily imagine that I would be obsessed as Uno is with Rebecca, Maxim’s first and seemingly perfect wife.
Oh, Rebecca… What an evil wench really. All the things that Mrs. Danver seems to admire in her are things that horrify me. “Rebecca cared for nothing and nobody!” Um, that’s not actually a good thing, Danny. Here’s my take on Mrs. Danvers- she had a major girl crush on Rebecca. Maybe not in a sexual way, but I think Rebecca purposely manipulated Mrs. Danvers, as she did everyone, and made Danny feel special and important. The funny thing is, Mrs. Danvers knew how Rebecca played games and used people, but felt that because Rebecca included her in secrets that there was some real connection between the two women. There’s a scene between Uno and Mrs. Danvers where she’s explaining how Rebecca was, how she cruelly treats a horse and then just coolly goes about her business. Danvers says this with great admiration. I cringed. If I hadn’t disliked Rebecca before than I certainly hated her after that little charming tidbit.
And Rebecca’s conquests! Not only poor Frank, but Giles as well! I’m lucky enough not to know anyone like Rebecca, but I do know of her type. The type of person that feels the need to compete with every person on the planet, that sees sex as a weapon. It’s Frank that suffers the most though, he’s clearly devoted to Maxim and Manderlay, but once Rebecca decided to set her sights on him the poor man was in for a lifetime of regrets. A family member of mine once had a girlfriend that couldn’t stand to be alone, and while he was abroad she slept around (with strangers and a few of his friends), but at least she did it because she was emotionally needy and had had a horrible childhood. She couldn’t separate affection from sex. But Rebecca is cold and calculating with sex, there is no emotion, no affection. She merely enjoys messing with people (and I would not be surprised if there were notches carved into her bedposts- it’s a wonder that Danvers didn’t point them out to Uno).
There were many minor characters to love in this novel- Frank, loyal Frank. I actually really enjoyed his friendship with Uno, at times feeling that her life would be so much better if she had just fallen for a man like him. They were able to talk and interact in ways that she couldn’t with Maxim- although the memory of Rebecca was still between Uno and both Frank and Maxim. I loved Maxim’s sister, Beatrice. She’s strong and confident and one of the few people not enthralled with Rebecca… of course Rebecca putting the moves on Bea’s husband might account for that. I also enjoyed Ben, however the references to him being an idiot were not so pleasant but this was written in the 1930’s so it’s sadly in keeping with those times. Other reason to hate Rebecca- her threats to have him put in an asylum.
Minor characters not to love: Mrs. Van Hopper. Ugh, how I disliked her character. I have known people like her, horrible gossips always looking to ingratiate themselves with people they deem worthy. I would have accepted almost any man’s proposal to get away from her! Then there’s Favell. What a smarmy worm. I was very proud of Uno for taking an instant dislike and mistrust in him. Saying no to his suggestion of a car ride was one of her first’s hints of a backbone.
Uno does grow in the novel, gaining confidence and poise along the way. Sadly, most of it comes the moment she learns that Maxim didn’t really love Rebecca. Oh, so you shot your first wife and then dumped her body in the ocean? But you didn’t really love her? Then that’s all that matters, come closer my darling, murderous Maxim! One can’t help but wonder if Uno would have loved Hitler if he had merely confessed to have never loved any woman but her. But it does enable her to stand up to Danvers, which is a big pay off for us readers. Granted, it’s just over dinner but it still counts.
I wish I had read the book before watching the movie, because I think that would have made the reveal, and Max’s true feelings, all the more edge-of-your-seat reading. But I adore the movie, which hopefully I’ll catch soon on TCM.
The audio version that I listened to can be found here. It was just like watching the movie, and I adored it. If you don’t like audio books to use background noise props then this one probably isn’t for you. However, listening to the story in the car on a cloudy, rainy day was the perfect setting. It was like I was there.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier gets a Midnight Book Rating of 11pm. A great book, a wonderful classic, an almost gothic romance- perfect to curl up with on a dark, stormy night. Especially if you live by the sea.