Girl in the Moonlight by Charles Dubow

A lifetime of love and lust, with a backdrop of fine art, vast wealth and high society.


In Girl in the Moonlight by Charles Dubow (Indiscretion), Wylie Rose has known the Bonet siblings since he was 10, when he fell out of a tree and broke his arm at a party on their massive estate. He studies painting with the elder son, who becomes a dear friend; he admires the younger twins and the rest of the family, who are all brilliant, luminous, talented, beautiful and tremendously rich. But it is Cesca, two years older than Wylie, who hypnotizes him, and ruins him for any other woman or any other life than self-destructive devotion to her.

From a distance of decades, adult Wylie reflects on that life–always coming when Cesca called, from their first sexual encounter when he was a teen through her unpredictable comings and goings over the years, and the apparently mature and healthy relationships he throws aside for her in Manhattan, Paris and Barcelona. She seemingly can’t help her flirtations, manipulations and self-destructive behaviors. Wylie feels for her like “an exile misses his homeland or an old man misses his youth.”

Dubow’s writing is a bit uneven, but often inspired in its phrasing, evoking a mystical atmosphere around Cesca’s mesmerizing power and the rarefied world she travels in: extraordinary wealth, titles and estates around the world, artistic success and broken hearts. Wylie and Cesca see tempestuous years pass in struggling to define the magnetism they feel for one another, and readers will be spellbound by the process.

This review originally ran in the May 26, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 5 martinis.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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.

Teaser Tuesdays: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

OH this is a fabulous book! I love that there are SO many great reads out there. I know that I can keep saying this my whole life: why did I wait so long??

Your teaser today comes from page 36:

I wanted to go back again, to recapture the moment that had gone, and then it came to me that if we did it would not be the same, even the sun would be changed in the sky, casting another shadow, and the peasant girl would trudge past us along the road in a different way, not waving this time, perhaps not even seeing us. There was something chilling in the thought, something a little melancholy, and looking at the clock I saw that five more minutes had gone by. Soon we would have reached our time limit, and must return to the hotel.

I’m adoring this book; it’s delicious. The beginning is mostly in pursuit of romance, and I’m excited for the engagement that is clearly coming (this is not a spoiler; the whole book is about the narrator’s role as Wife). But even in the midst of a budding marriage, the tone is spooky. The story is written from a distance of years, and with the narrator’s knowledge of what unpleasantness is to come – but I, the reader, don’t share this knowledge. I know something unpleasant is coming, but don’t know what. It feels like a ghost story but actually I really don’t know what’s wrong at Manderley! How exciting! I know, I’m very late to discover this enjoyable book, but I am enjoying it now!

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