Classic Rewind, Part II: Du Maurier's 'Rebecca'
The first of my friends to read Rebecca did so in seventh grade—and she breathlessly recommended it to all those who would listen, claiming it among “the best books ever.” I wasn’t among those who heeded the recommendation immediately, but, having just finished the book, I have no idea what took me so long.
Rebecca starts at the end—with the nameless narrator looking back on her experiences with the titular character. As with the protagonist in nearly all English novels of the time (published in 1938), our narrator is not of lowly birth—and she spends the entire book unsuccessfully attempting to escape the truth that she simply does not fit in with society’s upper echelons.
Our narrator learns “how the other half lives” when she takes on a role caring for Mrs. Van Hopper, an elderly woman who fancies herself a society maven, but is generally considered a laughing stock. During an extended stay in Monte Carlo, the narrator [her literal anonymity makes for a bit of an awkwardly worded blog post] catches the eye of Maxim de Winter, of the illustrious Manderley, one of the grandest stately English homes. Maxim, immediately enamored, proposes marriage; freeing the narrator from the insufferable Mrs. Van Hopper and providing her entrée into the world of the upper class.
Once Maxim and his bride return to Manderley, she is disheartened to discover that the entire staff seems unable to get over the loss of Rebecca—Maxim’s first wife, a woman who, by all accounts, could do no wrong. As Maxim grows increasingly distant, the narrator struggles to fill the gaping hole that Rebecca’s absence has left behind.
Though the second half of the book is an absolute tour de force, replete with plot twists and turns, du Maurier’s writing renders even the ‘dull’ parts page-turning. Rebecca now ranks within my top ten favorite books—I enjoyed it from cover[s] to cover[s].