Falling in love with Maxim de Winter, the nameless protagonist soon finds herself married, with the esteemed title of Mrs de Winter. Her new home of Manderly – a place she never thought she’d ever see with her own eyes – seems like a dream come true, but a shadow looms over the picturesque landscape. She’s not the first to walk the dog, to sit at the writing desk, to arrange the flowers. Rebecca’s presence taints everything and everyone; shoes that cannot be filled. Appearances can be deceiving however, as the new bride soon discovers.
(WARNING: This book contains MAJOR spoilers.)
This book, beloved by many, was the very first community-wide Ladies of Horror Fiction readalong; four weeks that consisted of discussions and the relevant question of where’s the horror?
Having never read du Maurier before, I was pretty eager to get going, even though I’ve actively avoided classics in the past. First and foremost, the writing was out of this world, there’s no denying the prose – poetic and haunting in itself – was stunning, but I expected no less from a novel published in the thirties. If there’s one aspect that almost everyone can find agreement on, it’s that du Maurier was a darn cultured lady, and she knew how to weave together sentences that would cement themselves into the minds of her readers. There’s a tremendous amount of quotes that I could recite, but attractive writing isn’t everything.
Try as I might, I wasn’t able to properly connect with the story, and that’s what reading is about for me; connecting, understanding, identifying. Despite feeling a sliver of attachment to the unnamed protagonist, her inner monologue and behaviour frustrated me to no end. There was repetition in her insecurities, in her complaints, and her juvenile sense of love was offputting. Infatuation and obsession doesn’t make for a healthy relationship, yet here it was in bucket-loads. I felt confused in whether I was supposed to be rooting for the success of their marriage, or hoping for the destruction of it. To label this as horror or romance is, in my opinion, inaccurate. It may have had morsels of both, but they weren’t distinct enough to make sense. Oftentimes the narrator would consider herself treated as a friend, sister, dog, or boy, by her husband. Not exactly my idea of romance, nor did I find her sense of self-worth – very much dependent upon her husband’s moods – empowering or inspiring.
Speaking of the “hero”, the love interest, the apple of her eye, he was one unappealing lump. I understand this was created in a different time, but no matter the era, I don’t particularly care for men treating women like rubbish (or in general, people treating other people like rubbish). Maxim wasn’t supposed to be the villain, so it goes back to my aforementioned point of intent – was I supposed to like him, to want him to escape the consequences? The twist at the end just seemed like a cop-out, to somehow relieve Maxim of his despicable actions. The explanation of “she was dying anyway” didn’t make the crime any less of a crime.
The mystery revolving around Rebecca herself, it’s what kept my interest. I wanted to know the truth about her death, and I especially enjoyed the guessing game. It’s too bad; Manderly was an enchanting backdrop, but those inside it demolished what could have been a magical atmosphere.
In conclusion: Beautiful writing depicting a poor story rife with theatrics. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t my style.
In a little while it would be different, there would come tomorrow, and the next day, and another year. And we would be changed perhaps, never sitting quite like this again. Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die; the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned.
© Red Lace 2018