Like most people, I read different kinds of books for different reasons. Long bubble baths, train journeys, my short daily commute and hungover Sunday morning all need different types of reading matter; for example, bubble baths tend to get quick and funny books (the Agatha Raisin series are classic bath-books) whereas long journeys attract thrillers or mysteries – something that I can get stuck into, that make me forget how tedious sitting on a train or plane for hours is!
However, when I’m feeling a bit sad or blue (my flatmate would say it was ‘mopey’), I turn to the books that I’ve read many times before. Everyone has some – the books that are the most dog-eared or bashed or just plain loved. The first of these for me is ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier. I’ve lost count of how many time I’ve read it, but it never loses its ability to make everything else around me disappear as I’m transported to Manderlay with the un-named heroine. Du Maurier wrote some brilliant stories, including the short story ‘The Birds’, which is far more haunting and disturbing than Hitchcock’s adaptation, and ‘Jamaica Inn’, which is another favourite of mine, but it’s ‘Rebecca’ that I always go back to.
The main appeal of the novel is the heroine herself. Her initial innocence, as she is saved from a life of being a paid companion to a rich and obnoxious American woman gives way to a blossoming self-confidence, but not until she has suffered countless humiliations at the hands of the eerie and obsessive housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Du Maurier was particularly adept at creating atmosphere within her writing, and I now tend to regard rhododendrons with suspicion, such is their oppressive nature in ‘Rebecca’. The constant subtle reminders of the first Mrs. DeWinter combined with the reticence of Maxim and his sister to discuss her mean that Maxim’s new wife, along with the reader, cannot escape her continued presence at Manderley, even after her death.
The last quarter of the novel, with the discovery in the bay and the subsequent race against time, flies by until the ending, which is both shocking and utterly fitting, and will stay with you long after you close the book. It really is my #1 feeling-crap-so-curled-up-under-a-huge-duvet-with-a-novel novel and deserves to be read by everyone who likes mysteries and just good atmospheric writing by a master story-teller.