Here’s yet another book I can’t believe I waited so long to read! I struggle to categorize this book. I think I thought it was genre romance, and I still tend to shelve it that way, but I also feel that sells it short. (Sorry, romance readers. Bear with me. I’m not trying to be ugly.) Of course, categorization is often problematic, and often doesn’t do a book justice. But we persist in trying to do it, for several good reasons. Labels are helpful in describing a book to your friends, and grouping like items together on a shelf assists browsing. So, I thought Rebecca was romance, or romantic suspense, as it says right on the cover of my paperback copy. And to me, this sounds like genre fiction: readable, easy, even “light”, entertaining, and in accordance with a known structure or format. Not a bad thing – I love a lot of genre fiction (although mostly mystery, and not romance). But I’ve also heard this book referred to as a classic. I’ve seen it written about and referred to repeatedly as a standard of sorts. My curiosity grew, and I had to pick it up.
And what a delicious little treasure it is! From the first page, I was transfixed. The mood is outstanding. I had only the vaguest of notions that something bad happened in this book, and I could feel the ghostly mist creeping unseen around my shoulders from literally the first few sentences. There is an air of foreboding that is absolutely unexplainable, as the plot proceeds in an outwardly staid and steady fashion. How does she do it?
Our narrator, who I believe remains unnamed throughout, is living a painfully awkward underprivileged youth when she meets a striking and tragic widower who abruptly proposes to her after a brief quasi-courtship. (This is not a spoiler, I don’t think, or not a very bad one. It is fairly well known from the first pages.) Anticipating this proposal was great fun for me. She accompanies him back to his famous (or infamous?) estate, and the legacy of the dead first wife looms.
Now I shall stop telling you the story. I might have known this much going in (at a maximum) and it was a real pleasure to breathlessly turn pages in ignorance of what was to come. It is suspense, people, as the cover says! If you haven’t read this, avoid spoilers with great care! And go get yourself a copy immediately! Here, you can borrow mine. (The library has several.)
The suspense is outstanding. The narrator’s awkwardness occasionally gets a little frustrating but it’s so REAL – my frustration is entirely realistic because she is realistic. The bad-guy characters are infuriatingly, in a juicy-delicious fictional way. The striking husband remains tragically striking, sort of admirable and obnoxious by turns, but I suppose the romance part drew me in, because I was right there with the nameless wife, wanting him to love us. And the background moodiness, the ghost-story feel, the gothic mists about my shoulders were entirely pleasurable.
I wish I could read this book again for the first time! I know du Maurier has written much else. I hope it is up to this standard because I thought it was outstanding. Genre fiction? I don’t know, I’m stumped, but whatever it is, it’s worth reading.