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Sunday, 21 June 2015

CLASSIC BOOK NOOK; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Image result for rebecca du maurier
A dark and foreboding romantic mystery
Back in 1994 I was working as a care assistant in a nursing home, looking after the elderly.  Having recently left home, I lived in a small flat and struggled to make ends meet, despite also having a second job working behind the bar of a local pub.  Being a carer is a difficult job and to make our shifts pass more quickly a few of us would frequently read the same book so we had something  pleasant to discuss while on sluice-duty! It helped to make a bad shift a little better and it introduced me to the novels of Daphne du Maurier.

Rebecca was the first of du Maurier's novels that I read and I was instantly hooked on the author's descriptive style of writing.  At the time I was unpublished, though I spent my days off hammering out submissions on an old typewriter and posting them out to publishers.  Like any other 20 year old, I was full of dreams as yet unrealized and I found Daphne du Maurier's novels very inspiring.

Rebecca tells the story of a grand house with a dark past.  Manderley is a great country home situated on the Cornish coast. It is famous for it's fine collection of art and antiques, the dazzling balls thrown there each year; the landscaped gardens that lead down to the sea; and the former lady of house, Rebecca de Winter, who died in a boating accident a year before the start of the novel. The protagonist, known only as 'the second Mrs de Winter',  remains nameless throughout the novel, which du Maurier said was challenging to write, but it does add to the sense that she is something of a ghost-like presence in another woman's house, for Manderley is still very much Rebecca's.  Everything is run as Rebecca wanted it, despite the arrival of the new bride, returning from honeymoon with the owner of Manderley, Maxim de Winter.  As the story unfolds we discover that all is not as it seems at Manderley. The shy bride must do battle with  sinister house-keeper, Mrs Danvers, as she tries to assimilate herself into this new world and become mistress of the house. But when the past catches up, her loyalty to her dashing husband is tested to the limits...just how well does she really know him? And how much is she prepared to forgive?

Daphne du Maurier working at her writing desk
Rebecca has all the elements of a classic Gothic novel; secrets, lies, intrigue, whirlwind romance, mystery, suspense, death, haunting etc.  The author builds a world that, as a reader, I longed to escape into because Manderley is so very beautiful. Daphne du Maurier makes you want to have tea in the cosy library, or out under the chestnut tree; or write letters in the morning room; or be the belle of the famous Manderley Ball. She makes her readers want to be the woman who has everything - grace, beauty, courage, talent, intelligence - just like Rebecca.  The author's descriptive passages are second to none; here she describes the new brides' first encounter with the lingering presence of the former lady of the house in the Morning Room;

"I went and sat down at the writing table and I thought how strange it was that this room, so lovely and so rich in colour, should be, at the same time, so business-like and purposeful...

But this writing table, beautiful as it was, was no pretty toy where a woman would scribble little notes, nibbling the end of a pen, leaving it day after day, in carelessness, the blotter a little askew. The pigeon-holes were docketed, 'letters unanswered', 'letters to keep', 'household', 'estate', 'menus',  'miscellaneous', 'addresses'; each ticket written in that same scrawling pointed hand that I knew already.  And it shocked me, startled me even, to recognize it again, for I had not seen it since I had destroyed the page from the book of poems, and I had not thought to see it again...

...There was notepaper also in the drawer, thick white sheets, for rough writing, and the notepaper of the house, with the crest, and the address, and visiting cards, ivory white, in little boxes.
I took one out and looked at it, unwrapped it from its thin tissue of paper. 'Mrs M de Winter' it said, and in the corner 'Manderley' "

Doesn't this just make you wish that the desk was yours, rather than Rebecca's? This is this kind of subtle haunting that fills the novel with such suspense and foreboding, adding to the despair of the protagonist and her increasing sense of impostor syndrome.  After reading it for the first time, I set myself the goal of one day owning a beautiful desk, with pigeon-holes, where I would write for publishers.  It took me ten years to achieve that goal, but here is my version of Rebecca's Manderley desk;

My desk, with pigeon-holes and secret compartments.
Daphne du Maurier wrote Rebecca in four months, which is pretty good going. It is a fantastic novel and a modern classic.  If you aspire to write fiction, her work will give you an insight into building drama and suspense on the page, and how to craft a world so real your readers will want to live there. If you're just looking for a new author, du Maurier was a prolific writer and she created many wonderful novels, all set in the rugged Cornish landscape, so escape to the sea this summer with Rebecca.  It is a very satisfying read.

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