There’s something about a first-person narrative that always satisfies me as a reader, especially when the narrator is an outsider or trying to fit in, with good or bad intentions notwithstanding. It’s easier to feel some kinship, some loyalty to a character who is less than perfect. We do prefer suffering because it’s familiar.
A few of my favorite narrators include the deceptive and maniac, Mr. Humbert Humbert, of Lolita, the insecure scholar, Lee Fiora, of Prep, and who can ever forget the tragic subversive hero, Winston, of 1984? Even the voice of Claire Randall in Outlander was irresistible simply because she’s a twentieth century English woman traveling in 18th century Scotland.
In Rebecca, Mrs. De Winter wasn’t always Mrs. De Winter, mistress of the seaside estate, Manderley. She was a paid companion of a rich, bored widow visiting Monte Carlo. Her experiences before that are nothing extraordinary, save for the time when, as a young sketch artist, she bought a postcard of the dreamy Manderley estate.
In Monte Carlo, she met her future husband, the older and mysterious Maximilian De Winter. That he is also the master of her dreamy postcard copy seemed like a premonition. An almost too pure a coincidence not until the unnamed heroine was faced with a decision of going to New York with her employer or staying with Mr. De Winter.
Of course, by the succeeding chapters, the reader will have known better that what seemed like a natural turn of events such as leaving your job, getting married, and staying a few weeks in Venice for your honeymoon, is only a slow build up to a nightmare.
You’ll notice the mood, created through the insecure and inexperienced eyes of the new Mrs. De Winter. It’s absorbing, the way everything unfolds. Manderley comes alive with its wall of rhododendrons, abandoned rooms and cabins, barking mad dogs, harmless but strange idiots, and scary if not indifferent house staff.
The stories of its former mistress, Rebecca De Winter, together with the people’s attitude towards her, create a character of its own. So by the time that the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, reveals her wild obsession, I’m no longer surprised. Every horror story needs a character like Mrs. Danvers. The devil in a black uniform.
But the climax is yet to come in the much-awaited costume party and in the appearance of evidences that will reveal the source of Mrs. De Winter’s and, ultimately, Manderley’s misfortune.
Next to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this is the gothic novel to read.
Du Maurier reveals her secrets slowly, taking her time to allow the reader to get attached to Manderley. The ending, one of the best I’ve ever read, reminds me of Anton Chekhov’s writing tip: if there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.