Rebecca (1938) – Daphne DU MAURIER

How do we define literature? What makes one book more important than the other, making it more ‘worthy’ of our time and effort? This question has plagued a lot of people since the dawn of time (well, at least the last hundred and fifty years or so), and no ‘classic’ novel more than Rebecca has had more debate surrounding it. Is this simply a ‘romance novel’, or is is something a little more?

Rebecca begins with a dream. A dream of a world that is no more. We flashback to the beginning of this trail of events, and discover that our heroine (who shall remain unnamed) is in the south of France, waiting on a really rather annoying American woman. Not for long, however, for she is swept off her feet by Maxim de Winter, who marries her and takes her back to England, to Manderley, his estate in the country. It is here, however, that the problems begin. For Maxim’s dead wife, Rebecca, is causing all sorts of problems for our heroine, helped by the imitable Mrs Danvers, head maid of Manderley.

I’m not sure if the label ‘women’s fiction’ has been attached to this novel simply because the main character is a woman, and romance is involved, but that certainly seems to be the general vibe I’m getting. This novel is not just a ridiculously good read, it is also very, very well written, and explores themes and concepts that I think a lot of ‘women’s fiction’ would not dare to go near.

Du Maurier really knows how to write a good story. Not only is the style fantastic, her structuring and the such make this book very difficult to put down. A literary page-turner, if you will. The characters are brilliantly realised, in particular, Rebecca, who never makes a flesh and blood appearance in the novel. Her influences and overshadowing of every event that our heroine must attend. The only niggle that I have is that, sometimes, at the beginning of the novel, the heroine can get a little (read: a lot) annoying. Her insecurities about whether or not Maxim really loves her can get grating, but she grows out of them quite quickly, which is a relief.

There’s not a lot more I really want to say about it. I was not expecting to enjoy it, so that was a pleasant surprise. I can certainly see now why it is the favourite book of so many people – men, as well as women. I think that the ‘romance novel’ label is really not very accurate. While romance is certainly involved (in an early 20th-century, sleeping in separate beds, kind of way), that is not the point of the novel. It is more about the Gothic horror style that du Maurier is trying to emulate, which she does brilliantly. So, basically, ,go out and find this novel, read it, love it, and make sure you don’t fall in love with someone who has a dead wife (or husband), and a scary head maid.

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