Quick note: The narrator isn’t actually named throughout the book, so we’ll just call her Wifey.
We open with a strange scene in which Wifey indicates that the couple is living as expats somewhere and something shady happened to ruin their previous happiness at Manderley (husband Max’s big house). Wifey is working as a young, personal assistant for an obnoxious American woman. (Even in the 1930s we were thought of as obnoxious. Sigh.) She meets Max de Winter, who is somewhat famous and owns a magnificent house and estate back in England. He’s mourning his dead, drowned wife, Rebecca.
Wifey and Max fall in love quickly, get married even quicker, and after a (you guessed it) quick honeymoon, head off to Manderley to live happily ever after. Only problem is that Wifey is a young, inexperienced, wimp. She’s terrified of the admittedly scary housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who worshipped Rebecca. Wifey spends most of the book afraid she can’t live up to Rebecca’s memory because Rebecca was so funny, pretty, smart, and awesome.
Turns out that Rebecca was all of those things and also a complete psychopath. Max was never in love with her, and when he discovered her true nature after they married, he didn’t want to risk public ridicule by divorcing her and revealing all the dirty laundry. After a few years of her shenanigans, when enough was enough, he shot her in anger when she announced she was pregnant by another man. Body was disposed of at sea and the whole affair played off as accidental drowning.
Well, the boat is found with Rebecca on it. An inquiry ensues, which rules that it was suicide and the body Max identified was all just a horrible, grief-stricken mistake. All would be fine (Wifey, by the way, has absolutely no problem with the fact that her husband is a murderer) except that Rebecca’s lover and first cousin (ew) shows up and threatens blackmail because he suspects the truth.
More inquiry ensues, which reveals that Rebecca was not pregnant, but had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She goaded Max on purpose hoping for the quick end she got. Justice is satisfied that she had motive for suicide, but lover boy and Mrs. Danvers are both firmly in the Rebecca camp and pledge revenge. On the drive back to Manderley from the inquiry Max and Wifey discover that Mrs. Danvers has set fire to the house and fled. End scene.
- Rebecca is billed as a “world-famous bestseller of romantic suspense” (on the cover of my book). It was not suspenseful. It was rather tiresome for long portions as Wifey moaned about how scared she was of the help and how madly in love she was with Max. It only got really exciting at the end.
- It was also not romantic. The romance between Wifey and Max seemed so one-sided and fake. For the vast majority of the novel it seems like Max only married her because he was lonely. When he finally confesses murder, he also confesses his wild passion for Wifey. Not only is it very strange timing, but it seems as though he’s just trying to get her on his side. Few of his actions afterward imply that he’s madly in love with her either.
- How is it that a girl who is scared of her own shadow and doesn’t like to order around the butler is OK with murder? Not just OK, but willing to cover for her murdering husband? Not a second of doubt there. This is not a normal girl.
- Why do we not get to know her name? The book even mentions at one point that it’s quite unusual. What’s the point? To place her further in Rebecca’s shadow? Is that even possible? Maybe it was a ploy to prevent the reader from identifying with her? I didn’t get it.
- When Wifey shows up at Manderley, everything is being done exactly as Rebecca did it. The desk even still has Rebecca’s hand-written labels on the cubbies. Wifey is so timid that she doesn’t change a single thing! She doesn’t even take the labels off the cubbies. How much of a pushover do you have to be to so submit yourself to a dead woman you never met? Perhaps part of my problem with the book was that I wanted to slap Wifey for a large part of it.
Next on the novel list is The Hobbit. Ah, the return of our old friend Tolkien. I’ll have to gear up for more dwarf singing. In other reading progress, expect a post on my progress with the Bible sometime soon.