I recently finished reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. My copy was 400+ pages, and I’m usually super intimidated by such large books (especially classics), so I went into this thinking it would be a long, slow read. I was really nervous about liking it (not just because I would offend a lot of people lol) but because I wanted to finally read a chunky book that I actually enjoyed. And I did – I gave this book 5 stars, purely based on my reading experience.
My critical rating would be 4.4 stars because I do factor diversity into my rating and this book doesn’t have any characters of color, with non-straight sexualities, nor does it deal with mental health well. It does have some interesting feminist themes though. That all being said, I do have to factor in the time period this was written (1940s) and so I will be sticking with my five star rating.
So I enjoyed Rebecca. A lot. And I think you should read it, too! I’ll list 10 reasons why, and if they appeal to you, you may want to pick this one up!
As always, before we get started, trigger warnings include: drowning, death, and gaslighting. If you have specific questions about these themes, please DM me on Instagram @bethsbookshelf. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but am totally happy to go into a bit more detail privately!
1. It Feels Magic
From the start of this book, the atmosphere is magic. Plain magic. There isn’t anything fantastical about this book, but it still feels magic. The opening chapter is a dream and it just programmes the reader to be on the edge of their seat with Manderley, the main setting of the book. And Manderley is wonderful. It reminds of Beast’s castle from Beauty and the Beast, but beautiful and alive. Yet, there is something so haunting about it because of the nearby sea, where much tragedy occurs. The danger of the sea almost literally surrounds the house, and it creates a super lovely juxtaposition between beauty and tragedy.
2. First Person Narration
I think I prefer third person narration, but the first person narration in this book is written so well. Being inside our narrator’s (who is unnamed the entire book) head the whole time is a journey in itself. She has so many inner battles that aren’t written like a woe-is-me monologue, but written as something relatable. Even if you don’t agree with what she says, I think you’ll definitely find yourself understanding, emphathising and worrying for her.
3. Beautiful Writing
Daphne du Maurier is the master of beautiful writing. No matter the scene, the content, even if it’s just dialogue, she writes beautifully. Here’s an example: “I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.”
Beautiful writing is so important to me as it carries a story. Imagination is one thing, but to carry that from page one to the finale is a skill. Also, even though this is a classic, it doesn’t use outdated or hard-to-understand language.
4. The Conflicting Romance
When Max and the main character start courting, I was quite invested in the romance. It was well-written, soft, slow and Max made me laugh. I could see the main character falling for him at the same pace that I was being charmed by him. But when they get married and go back to Manderley, we quickly realise the romance isn’t everything it seems. This was definitely one of my all time favourite things about the book. I was always wondering what Max was going to do next, what his motives were, what the main character’s motives were, how their marriage would survive all the obstacles in their way. I won’t give any spoilers, but until the last page, I found myself wondering that and I really enjoyed the way that made me feel.
Rebecca is dead. We never meet her. Yet she is the most vibrant character in the entire book. The main character never meets her, nor do I think she sees/describes a photograph of her – but still, Rebecca is so thoroughly characterised. It’s not until over halfway that we get Max’s description of Rebecca but by that point, just through the main character, we already feel like we know her so well. Her presence still haunts Manderley and makes the main character’s new move to the home such a struggle. I found myself hating Rebecca yet intrigued by her, which is the whole essence of her character. I’m so impressed by the way the author wrote about her without ever writing her in as a conventional character.
6. The Character of Manderley
I really love when authors write about a place like a character. Manderley is a fantastic example of that. In fact, looking back, every character in this book is there because of Manderley, not employment, or friendship, or marriage, even. They are at Manderley, because of Manderley. Even our main character – I wondered often, is she marrying Maxim for him, or because of the idea of Manderley? Maxim himself is so protective over Manderley, like a beloved wife. And all the parties, visits, and staff, are there because of the way Manderley serves them.
7. Plot Twist and Pacing
This book is a page turner even before we get to the big twist. Every scene is intriguing, creepy, somehow still lovely, and easy to read. Once we get over halfway through, it’s easy to fly through the rest of the book just to find out what happens. So if you like medium to fast paced books, I think this is one for you.
8. Unlikeable Characters
Unlikeable characters are very popular right now. Some love ’em, some hate ’em. I think it depends on the way they’ve been written, and if it was deliberate. In this book, it is defintiely deliberate and serves the plot. Pretty much every character is unlikeable, except for our main character, which makes the whole story readable, because we’re definitely rooting for someone. So when the twist happens, the main character’s response is really interesting to watch.
Maxim, although at first I found him charming, is really the biggest jerk EVER. He is the epitome of a gaslighter and I would probably poison him and keep Manderley if I was married to him (lol). Miss Danvers is a pain in the – well, she’s horrid. However, she still serves the plot and is a necessary character. Maxim’s sister, although her dialogue is so addicting and hilarious, is also nasty, passive aggressive and mean. Even Rebecca, although I loved her character, was strange and dark and definitely unlikable.
9. Gothic Novel
This is a gothic novel, wherein a a young naive protagonist comes to an old mysterious place or home and tries to make a new life for herself. If you’re into all that – and enjoy books like We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Girl at the Window, or Pamela – then you’ll also love this. There is the constant question of who is in control during this novel, and that theme is super interesting to keep an eye on throughout.
10. Lots to Unpack
If you like books that are layered, complex and can be interpreted in lots of different ways, this is one to read (and reread). There is a lot of debate about if this is a feminist novel; whether the author was sending a message; if this book was basically plagarised. I’m definitely not finished exploring this novel and if you want something to take up space in your brain in this pandemic-struck world – go for this.
So I hope these reasons help you decide whether you should read Rebecca. If any of these appeal to you, then this will be one to add to your TBR. 🙂