57. REBECCA, BY DAPHNE DU MAURIER
Recommended by Laura, on Goodreads. And my friend, a couple of years ago, which might have somewhat tainted my reading. The full backstory: I had a boyfriend, a few years ago. I was 16 and desperate for validation, he was 26 and looked so grown-up and worldly, I was blown away by the fact that he seemed interested in me. He kept comparing me to his previous girlfriend, though. It started off with small things, like saying that he loved how innocent I was, how he could show me new things and he never managed to do that with her, how she was always fighting with him and I was so rational, stuff like that. It started getting worse, like him telling me to lose weight and saying that she always skipped dinner to stay slim, and she was always at the gym and maybe if I just tried working out a bit I would actually like it, or if I tried to disagree with him in anything he’d say he never had to take this kind of crap from her because she was a full grown woman and I was just a little girl. Eventually, I had this image of her in my head of the perfect woman, someone I would never manage to be, and, of course, he used that as a way to control me. Nobody knew he did this, he was careful never to do it in front of other people, and would sometimes tell them that I was insecure about his ex and laugh derisively, like I was just being silly. My friend, upon hearing that, suggested I should read this book, saying that it would show me how being jealous and insecure really was just silly of me. I went as far as buying it, but rebelliously refused to read it; deep down I was convinced I wasn’t being silly at all. After I finally found the strength to break up with him (in case anyone is wondering, it involved actually meeting his ex, and her, before even learning my name, pulling me to the side and telling me I deserved better) I had pretty much convinced myself to never pick this book up, ever.
But I would like to believe I’ve grown up a lot since then. And that this friend of mine would never have suggested it to me if she actually thought it could hurt me; she didn’t know what was happening, and she would probably have killed him if she had (in fact, she tried, a couple of times, after I told her). So, after a bit of trepidation and indecision, I decided to give it a shot.
Synopsis: The first person narrator starts off being trained as a lady’s companion in Monte Carlo, where she meets Maxim de Winter, the wealthy owner of the famous Manderley estate. She is immediately swept away by him, and can hardly believe her luck when he proposes to her; she accepts without a second thought. When she arrives at Manderley, however, the shadow of Rebecca, Maxim’s beautiful, sophisticated, and deceased first wife, haunts her to the brink of madness.
Overall enjoyment: Because of the previously stated reasons, I was somewhat predisposed not to like this book. And, I have to admit, it did hit a bit too close to home a few times. However, there was a point, within the first third of the text, where I was surprised to find myself admiring the writing. I would not go as far as to say that I enjoyed it, I’m not as masochist as that, but it is a beautifully written, brilliantly constructed, masterfully executed novel.
Plot: Very suspenseful (is that even a word?) and well constructed. Having the narrator keep almost paranoically imagining scenarios and never truly revealing everything that happens was a particularly nice touch. Maybe I was too involved in my own issues to notice the foreshadowing, since I see many people complaining that it was too predictable, but the plot twists took me completely by surprise.
Characters: Painfully well made and characterized. I can barely control my impulse to search every bad review of this book and defend the main character. Of course she’s childish, SHE IS A CHILD! Of course she’s whining, SHE’S IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP AND NOBODY HELPS HER (except Beatrice)! SHE’S DOING EVERYTHING SHE CAN TO BE WHAT EVERYONE IN HER LIFE HAS ALWAYS TOLD HER SHE HAD TO BE! I understand people criticizing her, it’s not always possible to empathize with people if you’ve never been through what they have, and there is a general tendency, linked with self-preservation, to believe that victims were foolish and that what happened to them could have been easily avoided, but I don’t have the luxury of pretending this character is not believable.
World/setting: Manderley is a very rich, Gothic setting. It not only serves as background, but mirrors and doubles the narrative. It is very much a presence, almost like another character.
Writing style: Haunting and moving. Hard to put down.
Representation: Pretty much nonexistent. There are some hints that Rebecca might be bisexual, but that hardly counts.
Political correctness: I feel inadequate to judge this category. I was predisposed to love Rebecca and forgive any flaws she might have, but even then, the fact that she was promiscuous hardly seems like a legitimate reason for her murder. On the other hand, I really don’t think her murder is condoned in this book. I really think you’re supposed to be attracted to Rebecca; she is the stronger, more seductive character, not the narrator (who doesn’t even have a name). This is not a story about how a woman is supposed to behave, and if she does, she is rewarded with the love of the man she wants; it is rather a story of abuse, and the reward is a lifetime of it. The introductory chapter shows someone whose life would never be considered enviable, and by the end of the book you know that this is what the narrator has to expect from the rest of her life. The portrait of the relationship is too real to be romanticized, with the narrator constantly trying to please her husband, changing the subject immediately when he shows the slightest hint of discomfort, lying about her own feelings to reassure him, always trying to guess what he would want, being pathetically grateful for any display of affection he cares to bestow her. In the bit plot twist, with the almost absurd information he gives her, her reaction to it shows how far down her own degradation she has gone; normal logic has no importance anymore, all that matters is if he approves of her. And his subsequent declaration of love plays right into that, locking her all the more effectively by his side.
Bearing all that in mind, I am VERY worried about the fact that this book seems to be categorized as a “romance”. IT IS NOT. It is not a romantic story, and it does not portray a relationship people should aspire to.
Up next: Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie