From time to time I am asked what my favorite book is and I tend to answer (drum roll) Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I love the characters, the setting, and the gothic plot, and I read it almost every year. Recently I listened to it on a long car trip and still had a few chapters to go when I got home so I found my copy and finished it before I even unpacked. I may have taken my coat off first, but I couldn’t swear to it.
I love Mrs. de Winter, who famously is never identified by her first name. (I can relate to that, having often been referred to as Betsey’s sister or Frank’s wife.) Her anonymity helps us slip into her skin as her voice tells her story. She seems initially almost characterless, with mousy hair (how unkind), social awkwardness and lack of resistance to being bullied by the woman she serves as paid companion. When she is swept off her feet by the glamorous Maxim, we thrill vicariously to her Cinderella story. As she settles in to life as the second Mrs. de Winter she seems not even to think of herself as an individual with a name, but as a cog in the machinery of Manderley.
We gradually sense that things are not as they should be for Mrs. de Winter, as she attempts to settle into a home and life where she does not seem welcome. This brings us to the evil Mrs. Danvers, one of the great literary villains of the 20th century. I love to hate her. This story is a mystery, but so beautifully written I love reading it again and again, in spite of knowing how things are going to turn out.
I first discovered Rebecca by seeing the 1979 version with Jeremy Brett, which is (fanfare! cymbals!) finally available on dvd. The Hitchcock version is wonderful too, perfectly expressing the innocence of our heroine and the growing horror as things spiral out of control for her. I am not a fan of the Diana Rigg version.
Read it. Read it again if you already have. It is that good.