My very first pick for our book club was 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier. I had seen the movie based on the novel (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) but never actually read the book. Since all of our previous reads had been written within the last few years, I thought I'd throw a curve ball and pick something written all the way back in 1938.
One has to prepare oneself for a book written 70+ years ago. Words that have long since been out of fashion, or whose definition now carries an entirely different connotation, are bandied about and may well leave the reader scratching their heads . It's well worth it though. You see how much has changed, and how much humanity has stayed the same. And once you've read a few of these historical works, you may also find yourself working words like 'bandied' into your everyday conversation.
But I digress, on with the review. 'Rebecca' takes place almost entirely on a large estate named Manderly in the West Country of England. The wealthy owner of Manderly, Maxim de Winter has married for the second time to a young girl with no money, and no family. She's as naive and unassuming as they come, and entirely unprepared for the life of a monied English lady running an important estate. She's also entirely unprepared for living under the overwhelming shadow of Maxim's dead first wife . . . that's right Rebecca! Cleverly Daphne du Maurier names her book after this strong-willed enigma of a woman we never actually meet, and you never learn the first name of the new Mrs. de Winter. The story follows the new Mrs. de Winter as she struggles to fit in with her husband's life and as she unravels the mystery of what really happened with Rebecca, who everyone believes to have drowned in a sailing accident.
The bane of the new Mrs. de Winter's existence is Mrs. Danvers, who was employed by Rebecca prior to marrying Maxim de Winter, and came with her to Manderly to serve as the official 'housekeeper'. Mrs. Danvers is obsessed to a criminal degree with Rebecca and seems to spend the majority of her time devising ways to drive the new Mrs. de Winter insane with jealousy over Rebecca's amazing-ness.
Mrs. Danvers looking intently creepy
Although I enjoyed much of this book; it's set in England (a personal favorite) it's a mystery (another personal favorite) and it's a well written gothic-type novel (think Jane Eyre), I was almost overcome with rage over the ineffectualness of the new Mrs. de Winter. Perhaps women in 1938 better identified with her naive, kittenish ways (if kittenish is the term I want), but as girl of the modern age who is used to dealing with a variety of situations on her own, I wanted to grab her by her petite shoulders and shake a backbone into her. First off, FIRE MRS. DANVERS and burn all things connected with Rebecca de Winter in a giant gleeful bonfire on the beach. I assure you Maxim would have joined in the revelry.
Daphne du Maurier clearly had a backbone
That being said, this is an entirely clean read - you can share this with all and sundry without concern for offense. Also, this makes a great winter read. Curl up while the storm is raging outside with cup o' tea, hot buttered scones and lose yourself to a simpler time (and Mrs. Danvers' madness).