I’m one of the unfortunate few in the world who hasn’t watched Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of a movie based on this book. Perhaps I’m one of the fortunate few. Not having watched the movie (a fact easily corrected in the next 3 hours) allowed me to enjoy the book without any expectation, knowledge or any sense of the ending. It allowed me to enjoy one of the classics of literature as if it were written yesterday.
For me, Rebecca was brand new. And therefore, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Not enjoyed it in a way I enjoy reading something like Lolita or Crime & Punishment, wherein you come out of the book with a feeling that you’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’ve just read and feel woefully incompetent but determined nevertheless to dive in again and discover the pearl in the ocean of oysters. Rather, I enjoyed Rebecca in the way I enjoy reading an Agatha Christie novel, a way which has become all too rare because there’s no hidden meaning, no layers to uncover and discover and therefore, no scope to show off the greatness and complexity of reading.
But, to this day, having read all those deep books, I maintain that it is the simple books with a fast story anda bit of thrill and suspense added to the spicy mix are the ones which are toughest to write well. And the simple enjoyment they give readers on a lazy afternoon or a story night…well, that is one of the toughest achievements in literature. Agatha Christie did it exceptionally well. Daphne Du Maurier is right up there when it comes to Rebecca.
The story of a murderer and his new innocent wife haunted (figuratively) by his murdered ex-wife is told ever so beautifully that it becomes exceedingly easy to get caught up in the flow of the story and turn the pages without break. The language is simple, does not strain you too much and the suspense is built up slowly, steadily and then rapidly so that the reader is constantly wondering what the hell is wrong with the story and where all this action is going. Through the 500 pages, it becomes obvious that it goes south.
Manderley, the manor which serves as the backdrop to this tale of love, murder and sacrifice, is so well fleshed out that it would not be an understatement to call it a character unto itself. So much detail has been put into the house that it has a personality of its own and yousuddenly find yourselves living there, breathing the salty air and bathing in the sea, even as it all goes up in flames around you as you realize that the personality of Manderley is that of Rebecca and that Rebecca was a psychopath of the first order.
Rebecca, told from the point of view of the many characters flitting in and out of the story and primarily through the narrator’s interpretation, is an intriguing character. Put across as the perfect wife from the start, haunting our protagonist by constantly making her compete against the perfection that Rebecca supposedly was, she is quickly revealed to be a psychopath who easily manipulates, deceives, cheats and destroys people. She is the master of puppets with a God Complex matched only by the Devil.
People are her playthings, to be used and discarded. You are never in doubt that she deserved to die. She is Hercule Poirot’s last case… the case he couldn’t solve, the case he had to murder to prevent him from doing more harm. Rebecca conquered death because she was immortalized in Manderley, and every nook and corner of the house has her presence, even in death. She is terrifying, to say the least.
In other words, if you relate to Rebecca, you need a therapist. I have already made my appointment.
It’s only after you come out of the book and contemplate the journey you have just ben on with a cooler head and a hot cup of tea, that you realize that there might be another possibility.
You see, the beauty of the book lies perhaps in the fact that the story is told through the eyes of a young woman head over heels in love with a man with a disturbed past. She is willing to believe him in all he says and forgive him for all he does. The fact that Rebecca is a vile, lying woman who had tormented him for a decade is known only through him. For the rest of the world, Rebecca was perfect…kind, giving, happy, free spirited. You believe the narrator because she is innocent and love does conquer all. The pacing of the story ensures that you don’t question her, instead getting caught up in the adventure and rooting for her and her husband to have their happily ever after.
A little thought, however, and you suddenly find yourself coming upon a potential plot twist which might catapult the book from being a lovely suspense story to being something that truly plays with your mind. What if the innocent, troubled Mr. De Winter is the true psychopath and killing Rebecca was merely another deadly act post which he found a new, innocent victim. The reason given for killing Rebecca, all too honorable, is only his word with no backing at all. The events that led to the death were based on Mr. De Winter’s heresay and no one else had but a clue. The mere thought of this changed the meaning of the book in its entirety for me. The mere possibility of this happening shot up my respect for Ms. Du Maurier’s skills infinitely.
Rebecca is a fun read, a quick read. But it can be as great as any of the great tomes we read and as skillfully written as any of the methaphor-loaded books we attempt to decipher. It achieves its legacy by being simple, perhaps the most complex thing to be.
Read it for fun.
Because we should never forget that reading, like anything else we do, must be simple and fun at times.
Review by: Aniruddha Rege