"I started, the colour flooding my face, for in that brief moment, sixty seconds in time perhaps, I had so identified myself with Rebecca that my own dull self did not exist, had never come to Manderley. I had gone back in thought and in person to the days that were gone." - page 200
A shy naive girl is companion to an insufferable woman in Monte Carlo. It's there she meets Maximilian de Winter, a wealthy Englishman and falls in love. They get married and spend their honeymoon in wedded bliss before returning to Manderley, Maxim's family home. It's there our protagonist encounters Rebecca, Maxim's deceased wife who drowned off the coast a year ago. Her presence is felt in everything at Manderley, from the dinner menus, to the dog, to the interior decorating. Even the creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, does her best to keep Rebecca's spirit alive. Maxim doesn't want to talk about the past and seems to have something to hide. Events come to a head at a costume ball where a faux pas is committed and disaster strikes. The truth about Rebecca comes to light, affecting everyone involved.
This is an interesting novel as du Maurier plays with the roles of both wives. The title of the book is named after the first wife. Though she is physically absent from the entire book, she is omnipresent, so much so that Maxim's second wife seemingly can't escape her. Also note that the second wife isn't named. She is simply the naive companion, the second wife, the innocent girl-child. Her self-conscious personality is constantly overwhelmed by the remnants of Rebecca's life. She feels helpless as one can't fight a ghost any more than they can fight a memory and in the battle between the two de Winter wives, our protagonist fears she's losing Maxim.
du Maurier's writing has a fluidity that makes for ease of reading. As well, the description of the outdoors is stunning and macabre. The plants are menacing and given a character of their own. du Maurier often associates images of death with vegetation, creating a literal prison around Manderley.
"A lilac had mated with a copper beech, and to bind them yet more closely to one another the malevolent ivy, always an enemy to grace, had thrown her tendrils about the pair and made them prisoner. Ivy held prior place in this lost garden, the long strands crept across the lawns, and soon would encroach upon the house itself." - Page 3
Mrs. Van Hopper is deliciously annoying, almost like a spider, with people being fed to her. At one point she's even referred to as a "large complacent spider". Also, Maxim is sufficiently aloof and Mrs. Danvers creeps me out. "A black figure stood waiting for me at the head of the stairs, the hollow eyes watching me intently from the white skull's face." - Page 70 Her seeming infatuation with Rebecca and need to preserve all that she was is disturbing and also dangerous for the second Mrs. de Winter.
du Maurier also doles out little truths about the human condition that flesh out the themes of the book. "They are not brave, the days when we are 21. They are full of little cowardices, little fears with foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word." - Page 34
As well, the ending leaves just enough out to allow the reader to come to their own conclusions. du Maurier respects the intelligence of the reader by not spelling everything out. It also leaves the conclusion somewhat open-ended, allowing an escape for both the readers and characters.
du Maurier can be very wordy. While the descriptions in certain sections are beautiful she does elaborate too much at times.
We also spend a lot of time inside the head of the second Mrs. de Winter. She's always imagining what might happen or what she might say. It can be annoying especially if you get lost in one of her day dreams, only to realize nothing has actually happened.
Somebody find Eli Wallach.