After a whirlwind romance & a honeymoon in Italy, the innocent young heroine & the dashing Maxim de Winter return to his country estate, Manderley. But the unsettling memory of Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter, still lingers within. The timid bride must overcome her husband’s oppressive silences & the sullen hostility of the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, to confront the emotional horror of the past.
Beginning with some of the most famous opening lines in literature, Rebecca is a dark, ghostly tale full of crime, intrigue, and a gorgeous house called Manderley. I fell in love with du Maurier’s famous work when I saw the movie years ago, and have yearned to read it ever since.
Normally the gothic atmosphere and mystery are my favorite parts of a story, but I fell in love with one particular element: the unnamed narrator. Think about it for a moment: how many books have you read where the narrator is never named? Short of “my wife” and “Mrs. de Winter,” the narrator never reveals her name. Initially, I thought I was reading too fast and possibly missed it, but as she reveals more and more of her story, I realize du Maurier has utilized one of my favorite literary elements: the unreliable narrator.
The narrator, at first, sounds reliable, a woman merely remembering a dark period in her life and seeing its effects in the present. When the narration turns to the past, reliving her life at Manderley, I started to question her. Her refusal to name herself and her strange obsession with age (I couldn’t not find the actual number of her age, odd considering how often she brings it up) made me look at her recollections more closely. She focuses on certain conversations, scenery, moments, but utterly skims over the rest with a wave of the hand. She quickly paints herself as uncertain, awkward, and without confidence, a young girl completely out of her depth. Her obsession with Rebecca, a name she mentions so often that it might as well be her own, only speaks to her deep insecurity and tendency towards the dramatic.
From the first sentence, foreshadowing and a certain feeling of uneasiness slips in the narration. The sun might shine down on the narrator, but everything is fringed in shadows. I felt like she constantly saw the world through a vignette photograph. I couldn’t help but question her story when she depicted the other characters’ uncertainty or hostility. However, despite the unreliable narrator, Rebecca is shadowed. The plot’s foreboding became addictive, making me feel like I had to read more to figure out what on earth would happen.
In my opinion, Mrs. Danvers and Nurse Ratchet must be related. The amount of hostility felt by the narrator from the housekeeper is overwhelming, but is only found in her actions and tone of voice. She is the ghost haunting the hallways, and one of the three most powerful characters in the entire novel.
If you haven’t yet read Rebecca, it’s time. You must. I was astonished by the power of the narration, the intense imagery, and the slow pull of the mystery. The suspense kept me up reading and I know this is a book I will return to again and again.