Book Review: Rebecca

These are reviews/thoughts/musings of books read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review is on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 freaking masterpiece ‘Rebecca’.  

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

I’ve written before about my experience with theater company Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, an insane take on Macbeth’ where you don a mask and spend three hours wandering the dark halls of an abandoned ‘hotel’ in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood as crazy things happen around you. One day I’ll write a full article about my experiences there (I’ve been, embarrassingly, three times), but one of the charms of the show is that at any point, one of the actors is liable to take you by the hand and lead you to a one-on-one, insane experience for you and you alone.

The first two times I saw the show, I didn’t have this happen to me. But the most recent time I went, I got grabbed by a young nurse character, who took me to the hidden sixth floor and proceeded to blow my mind. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say there was a lot of whispering in my ear about Manderley, moonlight playing odd tricks upon the fancy and how we can never go back to Manderley again.

This experience had a profound effect on me–I knew the bar that serves as the starting point to the show was called The Manderley (and it’s one of the coolest bars in NYC–if you haven’t yet, GO), but I didn’t know that the show was built around a Gothic novel written in the 30s just as much as it is built on ‘Macbeth’. I immediately became fascinated by this and had to take the time to read the book in question and learn more about what I had just seen.

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the book in question, is dark, creepy, engaging and awesome. Besides the fact that the main character was a girl, I was surprised to find that it was considered by some a ‘chick book’–this allegation is sexist, unfair and untrue. The book is seriously creepy, a mysterious and hard-hitting thriller that whispers sweet nothings to you from the shadows as you find yourself lost in Manderley.

Rebecca, follows an unnamed narrator who just underwent a shotgun wedding to a brooding and mysterious man named Max de Winter and followed him to his British estate of Manderley, complete with servants, secrets and mystique. The estate itself serves as one of the central characters of the book, and is perhaps the reason why it has endured to the point where 80 years later it has its own Wikipedia page and it’s own lore.

Our narrator is de Winter’s second wife, as his first wife–Rebecca–has passed away less than a year ago under mysterious circumstances. The feeling of dread and foreboding du Maurier crafts throughout the novel never leaves you, as you always feel like something is hiding in the shadows of Manderley.

The incredible skill of du Maurier to make the deceased Rebecca a central character in the book without one single line of dialogue–I repeat, she is dead throughout the entire book–is a device that I haven’t really seen done in any other books, at least not this effectively. It is a stunning piece of craftsmanship and writing.

This is not a love story, or a romance novel. There is very little actual romance in the book–the fact that this book was marketed as such is an abject tragedy. This is a dark story, one of unhappiness, anger and deep-rooted pain. This is a story that’s going to stick in your mind, in your subconscious. I’m a jaded reader, and sometimes hard to please. This book had a profound effect on me.

When the actress at Sleep No More, who I now understand to be the unnamed narrator of Rebecca, whispered in my ear that “we can never go back to Manderley again”, she was right. After taking one journey through Manderley, it can never be the same.

Rating: *****

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