5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration
“Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again.”
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten…her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant — the sinister Mrs. Danvers — still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca…for the secrets of Manderley.
I absolutely loved this book. In my opinion, it is an absolutely perfectly crafted gothic novel. It is dark and mysterious, with an air of the supernatural surrounding Manderley and all that goes on there…as if the entire estate is infused with Rebecca’s presence. I love the insular, nearly claustrophobic nature of the book. Du Maurier does a superb job of making every element of the novel feel like it is cut off from the outside world – Manderley itself, the cove, the boat, Mrs. Danvers, even the relationship between Maxim & the second Mrs. de Winter. The occasional interactions with those outside of Manderley are exhausting and fraught with anxiety, and though Mrs. Danvers casts a pall over the second Mrs. de Winter’s existence at Manderley, she & Maxim both always seems relieved to recede back into their private life there.
That the second Mrs. de Winter’s name is never revealed is a very effective way of illustrating her second tier status with regard to everyone except Maxim himself. She allows herself to be pushed around and insulted by Mrs. Van Hopper, and feels it necessary to sneak around with Maxim de Winter to avoid Mrs. Van Hopper’s rude comments and judgmental attitude. When she arrives at Manderley, she is so intimidated by the illusion of Rebecca that she appears incapable of asserting herself and making Manderley hers. She endures Mrs. Danvers’ incivility and subtle evil to the point that I as the reader wanted to shake her until her bones rattled.
Although the entire novel is compelling, it is the second half that is full of the unexpected. The unraveling of the truth of Rebecca’s demise and the subsequent revelations related to that are done in a way that hold’s the reader in suspense until the very end. Du Maurier had an impeccable eye for the mysterious and inexplicable, and she created a dynamic story of unparalleled suspense that culminates in a hugely satisfying way because it is both characteristically plausible and yet completely unforeseen. Spectacular in every detail.