“Rebecca,” by Daphne Du Maurier, or why the hell did I not read this years ago?

Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” crops up on lists of best-ever mystery novels with great regularity, so it has been on my radar screen for a long time.

I finally cracked it open and gave it a go, and all I can really say is I wish I had read it earlier. Death at sea, tongues bound, perceptions versus reality, fear of the past, mysterious characters hinting at evil things, secrets hiding behind the eyes of others — these are the elements that make up “Rebecca.”

 I am a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It starts off at a very slow place, something I generally dislike. The main character, a mousy young woman who tends to let the world walk all over her, is not generally the type of protagonist I enjoy. But the deceptively simple but elegant prose, and the vague hints of bad bad things in the past and in the future, pulled me along. 

The characters kept me interested, too. Even minor characters seem alive, like real people with real secrets and real agendas. And while I sometimes wanted to scream at our young, foolish narrator, I realized that in many ways I could understand her. Her fears and motives seemed quite genuine, as did those of her new husband, Maxim. I wanted to shut them up in a room and give them both a good, earnest talk, but I could relate to both of them and so had to forgive their shortcomings.

By midpoint the novel became quite a page-turner, and I found myself eager to press on to see how characters would treat one another as secrets were compromised, actions were misinterpreted and wicked plots were executed. There were characters I wanted to see prevail, and characters I wanted to see punished, in a story with enough verisimilitude to guarantee I could not count on things ending the way I hoped.

“Rebecca” reads like a ghost story, and, in a way, it is a ghost story. It also is a crime story, set in a coastal English manor thick with atmosphere and memories some would prefer to forget. 

If you seek an excellent mystery tale to read when the rain falls in the night outside and all else is quiet, you could hardly do better than “Rebecca.” It belongs on all those best-ever lists.


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