Book Review: “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier

I figured I’d read something more sedate and peaceful after a long bout of fantasy novels by Abercrombie, Stephen King, and Jordan/Sanderson. I thought I’d continue up the list of 100 “must read” books compiled by the BBC. I’ve read most of them but I’m completing it by moving sequentially. The only one I’ve skipped so far is Winnie the Pooh. So when I came cross Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I picked it up and got down to it. It was one of those books on the shelf at my home in Chennai which I never got round to because the cover looked very boring. Well you know what they say about books and covers…! I’m actually glad I put off reading it. I think there’s a depth of feeling here that I simply wouldn’t have been able to appreciate if I was younger.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The first thing that struck me was the language. Intoxicating. Not flowery or ambitious. Just right. We don’t see it in today’s books. Certainly not on the Internet! Interwoven with the story are a series of thoughts that I could entirely relate to. Such as being nostalgic about a room that one had spent even a little time in. I’ve felt that way about hotel rooms. That I’ve somehow imprinted myself onto the walls, the bed, the chairs. Just a tiny part of me. Or restrooms that I will never visit again. It’s strange, but I definitely feel it. I know not everyone does. Perhaps most don’t.

Another sentiment regards the state of elderly people in their dotage. How often do we look at those far away eyes, that frail body rocking in the chair, that forgetful mind and think to ourselves “There was a time when she used to be someone to reckon with! A force in her world!” A time when they were as full of emotions and thoughts as we ourselves are now. Do they remember any of it? Do they look back over the years and wonder about how they came to be the way they are today? I’ve often wondered at how I myself would manage when I’m old. It’s as if the author was speaking my deepest thoughts.

The powerful personality at the center of the book is Rebecca. And she isn’t even alive! The protagonist (if we want to call her that) is a completely insipid and spineless wretch of a girl who really needs to grow a pair. If the book has one moral of the story, it’s this: Don’t give a shit about what people think or say. Live your life and try not to harm anyone. Rebecca asserts a malign influence throughout the plot. A kind of gothic brooding presence. She might have been a strong and admirable character were it not for her utter lack of feeling and empathy. But we always knew there’s more to Rebecca than her perfection. Something sinister. And her close associate Danvers is quite spine chilling in her own right. She goes to work on the poor heroine of the story who doesn’t stand a chance. Not a ghost of a chance even.

If I didn’t know better, I would call “Rebecca” a horror novel. One whose mood builds up slowly and almost without us noticing it. Eventually you’re conscious of a kind of shadow hanging over everyone with Mrs. Danvers being the chief architect. And Rebecca…good god. How can someone exert such a toxic and willfully spiteful influence on people from under the ground? Brrr!

Some have compared “Rebecca” to “Jane Eyre”. But the two heroines are such polar opposites and the atmosphere is so different that I can’t equate them even if the plot elements bear some similarities. I would recommend this book to anyone. Especially one to whom I want to make a point about not caring too much about how others see you or what they will think.

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