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{Review} Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca has haunted me since I was 16, which is the first time I saw the title. It was on the list of “100 books you must read before you finish sixth-form”. For some reason I never managed to get round to reading it. I think it was because I committed the cardinal sin of judging the book by its title and deciding that it was early 20th century chick-lit and, as such, something I could get around to reading later. (Later being when I had grey hair and needed a walking stick).

Years passed and friends mentioned it more and more frequently at dinner parties or in passing. I smiled, nodded and moved the conversation on to another topic as politely as possible. Then today I saw it in the English book section of the local library and thought that I’d ease myself into my (still un-named) forthcoming reading challenge with an English classic.

Blurb
A shy, self-conscious and socially awkward young woman of 21 marries a recently widowed Mr. de Winter, whom she has known for under a month. Upon their arrival at his family home, Manderley, she is still treated as the impoverished lower-class citizen that she was before she met her husband.

It quickly becomes apparent that she can never truly become mistress of the house for as long as Rebecca, her husband’s first wife is remembered. But can the ghost of her predecessor ever be exorcised when Rebecca’s name seems intertwined with Manderley? And why is her husband so keen to avoid every mention of the first Mrs. De Winter?

Review
This book really is ‘a classic’: it embraces elements from different genres without being sucked into any one in particular. It is the story of a young woman having to fit into a new world and struggling to become the mistress of a great house. It is a gothic-tinged tale of secrets and ghosts of whispers that echo around Manderley and the first Mrs. de Winter. Each of these threads weave together to makes the story a richer experience.

The character of Rebecca was introduced beautifully and gradually took over the tale even though she never appeared in it. We only ever see her through hastily snatched conversations with people who were in awe of her. I didn’t just recognise the second Mrs. de Winter’s desperation to discover what sort of person Rebecca was; I too became equally desperate to understand what made her such a notable woman in others’ eyes.

The other character I really who never got to speak for themselves but influenced the story was Manderley. It may sound clichéd, but that estate spoke volumes about its past mistress. It is portrayed as a husk now that Rebecca, the heart that made it so full of life, is gone. Du Maurier leads the reader straight into what feels like a shrine to Rebecca and awes them with its stillness and secrets.

The one point that really got my goat and stops the book from being an all-out win (in my eyes) is Mr. de Winter’s treatment of his second wife. He calls her an ‘ignorant… little fool’ on numerous occasions and treats her as a child for the majority of the story. I’m pretty certain (slight spoiler) that his suggestion that she dress as Alice in Wonderland for the costume ball (/end slight spoiler) emphasises the ‘young girl who’s fallen down the metaphorical rabbit hole and is wondering where she is’ aspect that lingers unpleasantly in the middle third of the book.

Overall
Rebecca is the sort of book that keeps you on your toes throughout and rewards you with stunning revelations at the end. It also reminds me of To the Lighthouse and Jane Eyre at times, so if you liked either (or both) of these books then you may like this one too.

WNI’s Verdict? Wavering towards… WIN!

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Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every sequel written by a professed fan of the original is regarded with (at best) suspicion or (at worst) derision. If however, the original novel was written by Jane Austen and the ‘sequel’ is the work of P.D. James, the general reaction – at least in my case- was confusion.

When Austen wrote that Pride and Prejudice was ‘too light and bright and sparkling’ and could benefit from ‘anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight [to the rest of the text]’, I’m fairly certain that she didn’t seriously intend for the shades of Pemberley to be polluted by murder. Nor did she want Elizabeth’s conversation to become blander than a boiled potato. But more on that later..

Brief Plot
Six years after Elizabeth Bennet’s marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy, preparations are well underway for the annual Lady Anne’s Ball. However, the night before Lydia Wickham arrives dramatically at Pemberley, screaming that her husband has been murdered in the grounds.

A search party finds Wickham alive and kneeling beside the corpse of his friend Captain Denny, who has it seems been murdered. In the absence of other suspects, Wickham is to be tried for his murder. But Mr Darcy and his cousin, the Colonel Fitzwilliam are convinced of his innocence. Can they save Wickham from the hangman’s noose or has his fate already been sealed?

Review
Although the opening has not received many favourable reviews. I rather enjoyed it. The retelling of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Lizzy’s ex-neighbours in Meryton and her family’s guesses and suppositions adds a delightfully gossipy and small-town feel that is evocative of Austen’s work. And if as some cynics might point out, it was less evocative and more ‘cut and paste’, look at all the possibilities for this section. I for one shall be inviting my Regency-fan friends over for a ‘spot the quote’ (tea-) drinking game as soon as I get hold of the audio-book.

The light-hearted style of the opening remained fairly Austenesque with echoes of Austen’s voice appearing from time to time, for example in the description of Doctor McFee:
‘He had early learned that a patient’s relatives are less trouble if they are kept busy in the sufferer’s interest and had devised concoctions whose efficacy was in proportion to the time taken to prepare them’.

Darcy’s character and internal monologue were well-written and showed almost entirely believable motivations for his behaviour. I say almost because of the emphasis placed on Mr Darcy’s and his sister’s sense of duty towards and attachment to Pemberley. Whilst the sense of duty these characters would have been raised with would have been great, the constant references to it slowed the pace of the story and stretched credibility at times.

Elizabethon the other hand is slightly… dull. By that I don’t mean that she has become the sort of paranoid and superficial nitwit that some sequels have made her out to be. Merely that she is not as vivacious as in the original, although I suppose that having a dead body in the house would decrease the number of witticisms uttered by the inhabitants.

Overall
Death Comes to Pemberley wasn’t entirely what I had first expected: it was not a novel that saw Mr and Mrs Darcy super-sleuthing it around Pemberley/ Derbyshire and the plot was weaker than in James’ other work. Nonetheless the majority of the characters were well-written and the story flowed very smoothly (apart from the occasional ‘Pemberley owns my soul’ paragraph).

Despite my criticism of parts of the book, I found it worth a read as it took me back to the world Austen created very convincingly (look out for references to some of Austen’s other novels in there!). It also gave a depth to Mr Darcy’s character and ‘background’ that was both believable and enjoyable to read about.

And it was wonderful to see James, one of the most brilliant crime-writers in English Lit., transformed into a fan-girl who admits at the very start that if Austen had decided to write such a story that she would have ‘done it better’.

Wild Night In’s Verdict? Wavering towards win.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Books

 

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