But first, real quick, what slowed me down: I waded through Long Man, a new novel that's receiving rave reviews but which just never quite grabbed me. Possibly I needed the audiobook companion ... more and more, I find it difficult to get into books unless I have a couple solid hours with a good audiobook version. On the flipside, I listened to an audiobook lecture titled Philosophy of Mind that was not exactly boring, but was technical and difficult. I thought I was reasonably good at philosophy, in a layperson way, but no. I found a lot of the content so abstract and almost mathematical as to be nearly impenetrable. And because it was only aural, I kept losing my concentration. Lesson learned: have an audio and visual copy of most anything before jumping in. (Yay for libraries.)
On to Rebecca. Although I got a degree in English literature, I'd never read du Maurier before. Last year Rebecca kept coming up in book review after book review. It seemed every new novel was an homage in some way to this 20th-century classic. So, because a book about a haunting kept haunting me, I figured I ought to give it a whirl.
My first surprise was that it was a 20th-century novel. I was thinking... ghosts and English estates and brooding lords-of-the-manor, gotta be 1820 or so. That would be because the novel draws heavily on the Bronte sisters. However, it's actually fairly modern, more Great Gatsby than Wuthering Heights. Rebecca was published in 1938, the same year this photo was taken:
That is my grandmother. Isn't she lovely? She was 21 at the time, approximately the same age as the nameless narrator who tells the story of Rebecca. The narrator is a stand-in for du Maurier herself, who wrote the novel as an exploration of her own jealousy—her husband had a previous paramour that du Maurier suspected he was still a little in love with. (My grandmother, as far as I know, never had this issue.) Rebecca is not really a ghost story, I discovered—or at least not the story of an actual ghost. There is nothing supernatural here, in spite of the gothic setting and tone. The titular Rebecca does indeed haunt the narrator, but she does it by simply having existed and lived a huge life that the narrator, her opposite, constantly bangs into. Where the narrator is small, self-effacing, plain, uptight, moral, and a bit weedy, Rebecca was tall, extravagant, beautiful, luscious, and wicked.
Of course, the real center of the story is the truly evil Mrs. Danvers. The housekeeper steals every scene she is in. I couldn't help thinking of Frau Blücher from Young Frankenstein whenever she was described ... which made me giggle a little, which in turn took some of the creeping horror away from those scenes. That didn't stop me from gasping at one of the truly over-the-top scenes in the middle of the book, which was as delicious as it was theatrical. (For those who've read it: the bit where the narrator and Danvers are looking out the window over the paving stones.)
|Stay close to zee candles. Zee stairway can be ... treacherous|
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