This was a book club pick in an attempt by our group to occasionally dip our toes into the classics. It had been in my TBR pile for a while, but I just hadn’t got to it yet, so being ‘forced’ into it was ok by me!
Our heroine is an orphan girl working as a lady’s companion and we meet her as they are travelling abroad. During this trip, she meets the recently widowed Maxim de Winter. Despite his grief and melancholy, she makes an impression which leads to a whirlwind romance and proposal. Finally able to escape the job that she loathes, she heads with her new husband back to his expansive estate, Manderly.
She anticipates settling down into newlywed life that mirrors when they met, full of romance and consumed with each other… but she finds that the staff of Manderly is very much consumed with the former Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. Everything is as Rebecca left it, routines are as she dictated them, and it is as if her presence is still palpable in the halls. The new Mrs. de Winter is suddenly thrown into a state of insecurity and confusion as she strives to find her place in the home, all while wondering if her husband is still pining for his first wife – all fuelled by the cruel whispers of the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. As time passes, she becomes more and more paranoid, and mysterious happenings raise questions about what exactly happened in the case of Rebecca’s death.
Initially I found the new Mrs. de Winter a bit of a stereotype – the weak and helpless woman who has no identity other than in relation to her husband. I rolled my eyes at her insecurity and paranoia…. until the one moment when it became clear that she wasn’t paranoid at all, that she had every right to be suspicious and afraid.
du Maurier is a genius in building suspense and just enough creepiness to keep you on edge without going overboard. After a bit of a slow start, I couldn’t put this down, and it has become one of my favourite reads of all time. It’s a classic for a reason.