"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
That beautiful phrase is the opening line of my first week's pick: Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. A haunting tale of love, secrecy, trust and betrayal, it is definitely one of my favorite period novels. It is slightly scary (okay maybe a tad more than slightly, but only in a creepy dreary England Jane Eyre kind of way) and amazingly detailed. Set in the gorgeous and imposing Manderley, the story follows the new Mrs. Maxim de Winter and her husband as they attempt to settle down into life at Maxim's sprawling estate as newlyweds in the shadow of the former Mrs. de Winter's (aka Rebecca) mysterious death. This book is written in such a way that lends itself well to an overactive imagination. Trust me, you don't need ghosts or other supernatural beings for a thoroughly creepy period novel. All you need is the evil and eerily omnipresent Mrs. Danvers looking over your shoulder as you read. Let me explain. Mrs. Danvers is Mr. de Winter's head maid. She also happens to be incredible devoted to Rebecca and thereby bent on the destruction of the new and impossibly naive Mrs. de Winter. And when the investigation into Rebecca's death is reopened, nothing can prepare you for the ending! It's a must read.
I love this book for several reasons. First, Manderley. I was (still am) IN LOVE with the idea of this estate. It is the classic stately, English estate complete with grand echoing halls, east and west wings and proper rose gardens and views of a briney sea. Du Maurier's descriptions of the place really bring it to life and, while it is a bit frightening (I definitely could not be persuaded to spend a night alone there) at times, it is one of the most well-crafted settings for a story I have ever had the pleasure to read. Second, Maxim de Winter is one of the most troubled, brooding Englishman of all time. I, of course, pictured him with cigarette, furrowed brow, and classic convertible. Not a bad mental picture and not a bad fictional gentleman. While not exactly emotionally accessible, I really enjoyed his wounded bad-boy-meets-English-countryman personality. But I'll let you make your own decision on that. Third and finally, while it's not exactly a book you will speed through, each picture Du Maurier paints is delightfully twisted (oh the things Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan could do with this story!). The plot is surprisingly suspenseful thanks to intense character development, tons of secrets, and Du Maurier's brilliant decision (but really the most frustrating thing EVER) to purposefully withhold the narrator's name from the reader. I can't tell you how carefully I read each page, hoping I would stumble on the girl's name. It made the entire book incredibly engrossing and I won't spoil it for you by telling you what you'll find. In fact, I hesitate to go on for fear that I may reveal one of the carefully thought-out plot twists. I will leave you with this. Maxim de Winter is extremely attractive (I am sure your imagination will agree). The narrator is only slightly annoying and self-absorbed (but hey, it's an English period novel; what do you expect?). Mrs. Danvers is possibly the creepiest villain ever created (I'll clean my own room at Manderley, thank you very much). And Rebecca is most certainly not who you think she is. If you've read the book, let me know what you think!
I am looking forward to watching both the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock-directed film as well as the 1997 Masterpiece Theater miniseries version. I'll be posting on those next week and I cannot wait to see how both versions captured the characters and, most importantly, Manderley.