By Daphne du Maurier
I’d tried reading Rebecca years ago, but it starts off with a lengthy dream sequence that is just a description of a decaying estate, and that is a lot to get through right off the bat. I was inspired to try again by the “Rebecca” chapter in Mallory Ortberg’s Texts from Jane Eyre. (I received two copies of this for Christmas, which was good, because it meant that my cousin’s wife didn’t have to steal my copy. This is also the second classic it has inspired me to read.)
The thing is, Rebecca makes me feel old. Perhaps if I’d read it when I was 22, the age of the unnamed second wife and narrator, I’d have been full of righteous indignation about what an awkward situation she’s in and how much more difficult everyone around her is making it. But, instead, I find myself sympathizing with the disdainful and bullying housekeeper, who loved and respected Rebecca, the first wife, and now has to deal with this shrinking child who can’t seem to do anything but apologize for her existence.
As soon as her much older husband starts showing exasperation, though, I’m all in her corner, and she gets somewhat less cringing as the book goes on and she even starts to show some personal agency. Also, du Maurier has a real skill at building a suspenseful atmosphere, so I was still invested in the scenes when not totally invested in the characters.
It took me a few chapters to realize something, but once I did, I was able to enjoy the book even more: I’d had a vague sense that this was a ghost story, either literal or metaphorical, but it is in fact a mystery, and unnamed second wife is not unlike Nancy Drew (in that she behaves like an exceptionally naïve teenager). Rebecca died under mysterious circumstances, and there are hints that she was not exactly as people thought she was. Reading the unfolding of that is actually quite satisfying, and I was even surprised by the series of big reveals at the end, which is always nice.
I wish I’d thought to live blog this one because just every scene is so full of craziness: the costume ball that goes predictably but still agonizingly wrong! The demonic housekeeper trying to hypnotize our narrator into suicide! The shipwreck unearthing secrets of the deep! (Another horrifying reveal that is too spoilery for me to discuss here, but that all the characters took in much better stride than I did!) It is not unlike The Shining, really, with an unbelievably passive woman feeling oppressed by a building and her emotionally distant husband, and would have been fun to go through chapter by chapter, but I was also able to read the book in under a week, which makes a bit of a rush job out of live blogging.