I always enjoy good gothic novels, so to some extent, it’s no surprise that I was very fond of Rebecca. Predominantly set at Manderley, a large estate in a quiet area not far from the ocean, the book explores anxiety, misogyny, abusive relationships and has a great sense of mystery throughout.
The main character, who we never learn the name of, ends up marrying an enigmatic widower named Maxim de Winter after a whirlwind romance and comes to live with him at Manderley. Our protagonist is also our narrator and throughout the story we get a good look into her mental state – she’s forever comparing herself to Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, and has a perpetual feeling of inadequacy. She’s a young, naïve woman who’s only around twenty years old – she interprets every little thing that people do as a response to perceived failures on her part. To some extent, her behaviour can occasionally be annoying – but that is just a testament to its realism. When people are as crippled by anxiety as the protagonist, it would seem annoying to hear them thinking everything is about them – and, indeed, it’s probably annoying to live to have your mind working in that way too!
Things aren’t made any easier by Mrs Danvers, one of the housekeepers at Manderley. Mrs Danvers was exceptionally fond of Rebecca and the two of them had a very close relationship – she openly compares the protagonist and Rebecca and wants to make her feel inferior. At first, she just seems to be a generally spiteful and malicious person, but as it goes on, you learn more about things that happened in her past and my view of her certainly softened as time went by.
And that’s one of the real strength of this novel: every character in the book is extremely flawed in some way: the protagonist, Mrs Danvers, Maxim and even Rebecca herself – yet they also all seem very real and their motives and reasons for behaving the way they do are easy to understand. While every character had at least one moment where I thought they came across very badly, every character also had a moment where I felt fondness (or at least sympathy) towards them as well – they were all good, well-rounded characters.
You’ll notice that I mentioned Rebecca herself among the flawed characters, despite the fact that she is dead when the novel begins. While she never actually appears in the present tense (and we also don’t get any flashbacks of her), we hear enough about her from all the other characters that she has just as much of a presence as anyone else. In fact, really, everything that happens in the novel is directly influence by her, even though she’s dead – it’s an interesting way of highlighting somebody’s legacy.
I think that a cast of well developed characters is enough to make an novel worth reading (side note: Maxim’s sister Beatrice is a very likeable character – she comes across as a very ‘loud’ but well-meaning person), but the fact that it has a mystery/thriller element as well only serves to make it even more of a page turner. I know some people think it’s a bit slow to start (I didn’t really think that), but other than that, there’s not much to fault this novel on.