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Darla D
Books & other thoughts, November 2009

After hearing so many people rave last year about their wonderful R.I.P. Challenge reads of the classic suspense novel Rebecca, I added it to my list of books to read for this year’s challenge. I hadn’t read it in years, and this time I opted for the audio version. It turned out to be a good choice; the narrator was very good (she reminded me a bit of one of the women who read the audio version of The Thirteenth Tale, another great “listen”), and between each chapter there was some intensely melodramatic violin music which really added to the spooky mood.

The premise, for the three of you out there who have yet to read this wonderful book, is that a young, unnamed woman with no family, working as a “companion” for an unpleasant, wealthy woman, has a whirlwind romance with an older man named Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter. The heroine is besotted with him, and they have a lovely honeymoon. But when they return to his home in Cornwall, Manderley, everything changes. For one thing, everywhere she looks she sees reminders of his first wife, a beautiful, vivacious woman who drowned less than a year earlier. The heroine is intelligent but timid and self-effacing, and everywhere she looks she sees reminders of the amazing, wonderful Rebecca, a woman it seems she can never live up to. Complicating matters is the presence of the malicious, dour housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.

Manderley is a place of secrets and darkness, and the heroine is ill equipped to meet the challenges it presents. Despite her timidity, she is determined to be a good wife to Maxim, even though she believes he’ll never love her the way he did Rebecca. As time goes on, however, a very different picture of Maxim’s first wife emerges...

This is an atmospheric, exciting, character-driven suspense novel, and it is the perfect read for a dark and windy October—or November—evening. It is not a romance novel in the genre sense, but there is romance in it, and also mystery and plenty of tension. I remembered identifying very much with the heroine when I first read this novel, and that’s not surprising, as I was probably a teenager then. I was surprised to find myself growing a bit impatient with her this time around, as she hides behind doors to avoid having to meet visitors to the house and allows herself to be so bullied by the horrible Mrs Danvers. Still, she does grow and change, and it is entirely believable that she’d behave the way she does, given her personality and social position. Maxim’s carelessness of her irritated me, and I did not find him to be as compelling a character as I did so many years ago. It’s funny how experience, age and perspective can make a reading experience a little bit different with each reread.

At any rate, I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a bit of creepy suspense and Gothic atmosphere—maybe for next year’s R.I.P. reading challenge!

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