A+ for mood and a suspenseful plot; B- for the most self-centered, melodramatic characters written since the Brontës' time. Great but laborious descriptive details, and an abrupt and cliched ending.
I can see why this creepy mystery is a classic: it combines the gothic atmosphere of Jane Eyre
with the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. The young bride of Maxim de Winter is brought back to his English estate, Manderley, after a whirlwind courtship, and finds the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, lingering over everything. Young, insecure, unsure of herself, she is easily cowed by the domineering housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who resents the woman usurping her mistress's place.
The mystery of Rebecca
is nicely maintained throughout the book. Who was she, what kind of a woman was she, and how did she die? Even when the big revelations come, the story isn't over, as there are several more plot twists skillfully spun out right up to the end.
This would have been a solidly 4-star book for me except there were two things that made me enjoy it less. The first is the protagonist, who's basically a timid ingenue with barely any will of her own. She's completely dominated first by her employer, then by her older husband, and then by her catty, vindictive housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. She spends most of her time tormenting herself with what she imagines everyone else is thinking about her, and when she finally starts taking a tiny bit of initiative, she's still completely self-involved. As for Max de Winter, well, du Maurier is writing in the grand old Brontë tradition of creepy, abusive control freaks being portrayed as romantic.
The second thing I didn't enjoy was the long, tedious descriptions of everything
: Manderley, the cliffs, the furniture, the flowers and vases, the clothes, the meals, etc. A little descriptive detail is great; a little more can be described as "lush"; Rebecca
is just plain wordy. Along with the narrator's long, tedious internal monologues, this book really seemed to drag in places. I was eager to get to the climax and the unveiling of all secrets, and relieved once it was over.
I give it 3.5 stars, which right now I'm rounding to 3 though maybe I will feel more generous later.