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Book Review - Rebecca -SPOILERS Below the Line

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If you haven't read Rebecca, all I'm going to say is, it's the mother of domestic noir, and you should go read it. When I finished reading it, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again, so spoilers are critical here. Take that into consideration before you continue reading.

The narrator marries an older man, Maxim de Winter, who whisks her away from her vulgar lady employer with hints of English upper-class elegance. But when she arrives at Manderley, the de Winter mansion, she finds that she is trying to fill shoes that are much too big for her. The shoes are, of course, Maxim's dead first wife, Rebecca.



I found the female characters interesting and complex, as opposed to Maxim, who is pretty flat and boring, to be honest. It could be an effect of the reader not knowing his mental state until fairly late in the story when he reveals he had killed Rebecca and why. Once we hear his side of the story he becomes a bit more interesting, but he still pales, in my opinion, in comparison with the much more complex Rebecca, the loyal Mrs Danvers, and the shy imaginative narrator.

I'll start with Mrs Danvers because I think she was made the villain unjustly. Mrs Danvers is effectively Rebecca's mum. She raised her from childhood. Then she came with her when she was married, and after her death, she wasn't allowed space to grieve for her 'daughter' because she was merely a servant. In addition to hinting at the complex relationships between "upstairs and downstairs" (for more, watch Downton Abbey), it's an interesting statement about the process of grief. Mrs Danvers wasn't ready to move on, but Maxim was because grieving is such a personal thing. Everyone deals differently with losing a loved one, and the real tragedy in this story is that this woman who was a mother and a friend wasn't allowed enough time and space to grieve. This, of course, leads to her final act of revenge when she finds out that Maxim is going to get away with Rebecca's murder.

The nameless narrator annoyed me tremendously at the beginning. She is neurotic and lives mostly in her own head and keeps demeaning herself needlessly. In short, she struck too close to home. Once I realised that this is what bothered me about her, I had an easier time reading the rest of the story. I was even able to find some empathy towards her. Barely a woman yet, she is manipulated into marriage by a much older selfish man. But she surprised me when she found out he was a murderer. I expected her to run, but she stuck with him. It was an interesting choice on the part of the Du Maurier, and I think it redeemed the narrator as a character. If she had run, she would have stayed the annoying, neurotic child. By sticking with her husband, she revealed much more backbone than I'd expected of her and became a rounded character, even if I every feminist bone in my body screams at the way she lets Maxim treat her.

Rebecca is the ultimate "bad girl". She dresses like a boy. She is wild and fierce rather than timid and demure. She also (gasp) has sexual impulses. Can you imagine? In short, she doesn't know her place. What I loved about Du Maurier's story is that up until the very end we think that death was her punishment for being a bad girl. In a very patriarchic way, she gets shot because her husband has had enough of her frolicking and rule-breaking. But at the very end, we discover that she was sick. Moreover, to make sure no reader can interpret this the wrong way, we are explicitly told that she knew she could never get pregnant. The only way to interpret the "murder" scene, then, is indeed as suicide-by-husband. It is clear that Rebecca manipulated Maxim into shooting her, using the ultimate threat - her child by another man inheriting his beloved Manderley. Du Maurier makes us defend or at least sympathise with a murderer, only to find out that the woman he killed had the power all along. Now that's storytelling.

Bottom line: what are you still doing here? You should be looking for the nearest library.


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