Many of my relatives, whether they are keen on reading or not, often marvel on the steady stream of books rapidly passing through my hands and ask, in alternatively derisive, awed, or intrigued tones, "How do you even find so many books to read?"
At my disposal are numberless hoards of methods to acquire new reading material, but the priceless Arkenstone at the heart of those heaps is the recommendations of friends. Practically every summary blurb on book covers or Goodreads sounds fascinating--that's what the publishers are paid to do. But only my friends know my personal tastes, and when it comes to book recommendations they often have an uncanny accuracy.
Idiotically, I all too often resist.
My friends are all extremely kind people, who love reading. If they like a book, they usually mention that it's good and that they think I'll like it. If I protest, spewing out preconceived notions regarding said book, they retire quietly and say nothing more.
Sometimes, I wish they would just slap me upside the head with books, forcing me to read them whether I want to or not.
Usually, the reason I put off reading books is because I suspect they may be scary. After reading a horrifying mystery in middle school that robbed me of sleep for weeks on end, I have had an excessive fear of anything remotely frightening. In the case of Rebecca, I discovered that Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie, and that realization was enough to scare me away. Also, it's written by the author of "Birds"—yes, which Hitchcock also filmed. All good reasons, in my mind, to avoid the book. As mentioned before, I don't like scary stories.
Thank goodness that I finally tried it, because it is now one of my favorite books, with 5/5 stars bestowed on it as an official rating. As it turns out the book isn't scary, merely ominous and oppressive. There isn't much to tell about the story without giving away the plot twists; essentially, a young girl marries the dashing widower Maxim de Winter, and is whisked away to his stately British mansion. However, the strong persona of the former Mrs. de Winter seems to haunt the place, and shadow every aspect of the young bride's new life. And the creepy housekeeper isn't helping things.
The plot may sound dull, but Daphne du Maurier's writing is exquisite. She powerfully conveys every feeling of the first-person narrator, from nostalgia to nervous awkwardness. The ominous tone gripped me imperiously from the moment I read the haunting first line until I turned over the last page 48 hours later, at which point I flipped back in a stunned trace to re-read the first two chapters.
I absolutely love the main character. The second Mrs. de Winter seems to process life exactly as I do—her nervous shyness, rambling mind, vivid anxious forecasts of the future, and constant analysis of people around her gave me an extremely strong connection with her, and an enjoyment of first-person narration that I never expected I would have. I'm pretty sure I'd act exactly the same way if I suddenly became mistress of a mansion: nervously tiptoeing through the rooms feeling like a burglar, apologizing to the servants.
Despite long stretches with little going on, the novel never felt dull—I was gripped entirely, constantly expecting a dark plot twist to occur. In short, you need to read this masterpiece of suspenseful story-telling. And if you're anything like me, you will find a kindred spirit in the second Mrs. de Winter.
The following discussion contains spoilers. Don't read below unless you've already read the book!
Seriously, just order the book from the library and come read the rest of this review later. Why read more of my writing when the brilliance of Daphne du Maurier's pen is beckoning?
To continue, can I just say: I've never been more happy to discover that a man is a murderer. Honestly, you know a master-author is at work when the plot twist detailing the dark, murderous secret in a main character's past only makes you breathe in relief, smile happily, and begin to love him.
On another spoiler-ish topic, do you remember the identification that I felt with the narrator? That connection made her realization towards the end especially thought-provoking to me:
The silence that I had always taken for sympathy and regret was a silence born of shame and embarrassment. It seemed incredible to me now that I had never understood. I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth. This was what I had done. I had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth. Had I made one step forward out of my own shyness Maxim would have told me these things four months, five months ago.
This made me think quite a bit, because that is exactly what I do all too often. I retreat into myself when other people seem emotional. If there's any chance of things becoming awkward, I decide to just avoid the entire topic. Afraid of embarrassing or hurting people, I'm overly careful about asking about their lives, emotions, and thoughts. The second Mrs. de Winter, noticing Max's reserve and emotional trauma, assumes that he is constantly missing his dead wife. She feels constantly compared to Rebecca, and to be always coming up short in this comparison. Worried about paining Max by addressing the source of his pain, she never refers to Rebecca either, nor does she mention how she feels neglected, unloved, and inferior to his first wife.
Rebecca vividly portrays how shyness and fear of others (however selfless your motivation may seem) cause barriers and separation potentially more painful than anything we risk when opening up, inquiring about others, or addressing painful topics. Interpreting silence is impossible, and no matter how skilled we think we are at reading people's faces, our assumptions can always be incredibly wrong. Of course, that doesn't mean we should crash into the other ditch, prying about everything and announcing our feelings to the wind. (Mrs. Van Hopper is good example of that extreme.)
This book is a helpful nudge to insecure introverts, such as myself, to tell other people how you feel, to address difficult topics or aspects of relationships, and to intentionally get to know about other people and the lives they lead or have led.