Had Simon and Polly not hosted Discovery Daphne this month, I am not sure I would have ever picked her up. I have already told that story, but even setting aside my unfounded anti-Daphne bias from high school I am not sure I would have ever gotten around to her.
If you would have asked me after Hungry Hill–my first du Maurier which I finished earlier this month–I don’t think I would have been too positive about her. Certainly nothing wrong with Hungry Hill. A perfectly acceptable and readable multi-generational family tale. But also nothing that made much of an impression.
So how do I feel now that I have finished Rebecca? Well, at the risk of annoying lots of readers and bloggers whose reading tastes I respect and often share, I’m left wondering what all the fuss is about. My reactions as I experienced them (and spoilers galore):
1. I almost gave up three different times trying to get through the first ten pages. Something overly flowery or impressionistic, or something I couldn’t ever put my finger on. It wasn’t until the unnamed narrator (let’s call her Miss Narrator) mentioned Mrs. Van Hopper that I began to feel like I may want to continue.
2. My interest deepened as I began to read more about Miss Narrator’s role as a paid companion to the rich American Mrs. Van Hopper. It felt promising. Like she was going to break free from her depressing future. And when she started to be courted by Mr. de Winter I started to care about her and what happened to her.
3. There was a scene where Miss N and Mr. de Winter are riding about the coast in his car. Something in this scene struck a chord with me that made me glimpse some part of my past and gave me a kind of happy/sad nostolgic groove.
4. And I certainly got caught up in the excitement of Miss N marrying Mr. de Winter and leaving her drudgery behind her. But my joy turned to annoyance when she gets to Manderly and seems completely incapable of adjusting to her new situation. Sure, a young twenty-something is going to be clueless about many things about being in a relationship with a man 20 years her senior. But I feel like a character like Miss N who was making her way in the world as a paid companion of rich gentleladies would have better perspective on the ways of society. She certainly seemed perceptive enough when it came to the follies of Mrs. Van Hopper’s social climbing. And her frequent daydreams about what she thought people thought of her certainly indicated that she was perceptive, yet she seemed utterly clueless about how to steel herself against the situation. I guess maybe I am blaming the victim, but it annoyed me nonetheless.
5. I also felt like Miss N should have been more up to the challenge of her situation at Manderly given that she could have still been at the beck and call of Mrs. Van Hopper.
6. Everyone’s Rebecca obssession was just way too over the top. Rebecca this, Rebecca that. Yeah we get it Daphne, you want us to understand how fantastic Rebecca was. My annoyance was only exacerbated by the fact that millions of pages later du Maurier lets us know that Rebecca was actually a big ol’ bitch of a liar. And I get the fact that Miss N’s problem was that she projected way too much of her own insecurities on both Max and the others who did (or seemed to) worship Rebecca.
7. Despite all of her imagined scenarios about what people thought, Miss N takes way too much at face value. After having experienced a bit of life in Monte Carlo, did it never occur to her that Mrs Danvers was overstepping her bounds in a million different ways? I am not saying Miss N should have had the courage to tell Mrs D to go fuck off but she could have at least imagined that scenario. God knows she imagined everything else.
7a. And why in the world would she take Mrs. Danvers’ advice about what to wear for the fancy dress ball. She knew how freaky deaky Mrs D was by that point, why in the world would she listen to her at that point.
8. At some point when I figured out something in the plot sooner than I was probably supposed to, I did skim about 30 pages or so until it actually happened. I wish I could remember what the plot point was…
9. I should also admit, however, that once Rebecca’s body was found I did find it to be quite the page turner until the end of the book.
10. Why are we supposed to accept that Frank, Miss N and the Colonel are all okey dokey with the fact that Max killed Rebecca? Really? Max didn’t know she had terminal cancer when he killed her so even after we learn that fact it doesn’t exonerate him. at all
11. I did enjoy the ups and downs of the investigation, vacillating between wanting Max to get caught and wanting him to get away with it.
12. Are we supposed to feel something when Manderly goes up in flames? Dude, you just got away with murder, a torched house seems like a small price to pay. It would have been better if the deranged Lesbianic Mrs Danvers dressed as Rebecca had slit your throat and then set the place on fire. Or she could have made Miss N dress as Rebecca, made out with her, and then forced her to kill Max. I mean, you want creepy, gothic? Lets really make it a Halloween mess up in there.
As you can see there were a few things about the book I enjoyed but the annoying bits kind of neutralize them. In the end my overall feeling is ambivalence. I think I would have to be pretty bored to pick up another du Maurier. Just not my cup of tea.