Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Rebecca Readalong: Post #1 – The First Half

This Readalong is being hosted over at A Literary Odyssey here – this weekend, those participating will be posting their thoughts on the first half of the novel and, no doubt, speculating on where it will go from here. If you click on the link above, you should be able to check out other bloggers’ thoughts on this wonderful book.

So, where to begin?

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this much adored story. It is to this day one of my mum’s favourite books and as soon as I told her I was reading it, she was squeaking away in enthusiasm – I always feel uneasy reading someone I know’s favourite books. What if I don’t like it? I know how I feel when someone pans a book I adore – a little bit like they’ve insulted a person I adore – so I was hoping this wouldn’t happen.

For the first few chapters, I found my attention drifting. The unnamed narrator is clearly troubled and her thoughts a little haphazard. She seems a little sad, haunted and jaded, which was an interesting start. Comparing that to the shy and awkward teen that she reminisces about and you have a great start – what has driven the innocent and youthful girl to become like this? After this curious start, however, I found the pace dropped a little.

This has picked up again, though. The more I read, the more involved in the house and its characters I become. I’m not a huge Maxim fan – he’s clearly damaged irreparably by the infamous Rebecca’s death and his manipulation of the besotted narrator is sad to read. From his lacklustre proposal to their arrival at Manderley, I felt so sorry for the future (then new) Mrs de Winter. The contrast between her imagined proposal and wedding day and the reality of Maxim’s efforts is heart-breaking! Every girl wants, whether they admit or not, a bit of sparkle in their nuptials – and no, gentlemen, a piece of bitter tangerine is not that sparkle!! And sacrificing the white dress, fine, but an over-the-counter marriage? Hmm…there’s more then meets the eye to Mr de Winter, I think!

Speaking of characters, there’s certainly an array! As above, there’s selfish Maxim de Winter and the introverted narrator. When we get to the house, there’s the equally infamous Mrs Danvers with her almost tangible memories of Rebecca. I also think that Firth, who freaks me out no end, deserves a mention. The way he always seems to appear and the way he always says, “Mrs de Winter/The mistress used to…” is insensitive at best. I actually like the irrepressible Beatrice for her refreshing honesty too – the only person not to shroud her knowledge of the house or Rebecca in mystery.

My favourite thing about this novel is Manderley itself – I love the descriptions of the house and its twists and turns, particularly when the new Mrs de Winter first moves there and finds her every move around the house dictated by what Rebecca did: mornings in the Morning Room, afternoon tea in the Library and so on…the house has a chilling quality all of itself and it could just be me but I find something eerie about the descriptions of the rhododendrons too…atmosphere wise, this book deserves its reputation.

While I am enjoying the book, I am finding myself a little frustrated with the narrator even while I feel desperately sorry for her. Obviously Mrs Danvers is appallingly devilish (by likening her to a skeleton, the narrator doesn’t help at all there!) but I can’t help feeling that if the narrator asserted herself a bit more, she wouldn’t feel so victimised and Mrs Danvers wouldn’t be so unnerving.

Where to from here? Well I’m obviously hoping that Mrs de Winter learns to start defending herself and being more dynamic and less petulant and self-pitying. I’m hoping that she finds her own way to be the mistress of Manderley and I hope she recognises Maxim for the selfish man he really is. I’m so looking forward to finishing this one and definitely feel a late night coming on…

Now, back to Manderley!!

  • Maxim does seem to be a bit of a downer, doesn't he? I felt kind of bad for the narrator about that, but I also sort of felt like she invited it on herself by not talking to him about much of anything and just imagining up reasons for his actions and attitude. Communication seems to be lacking in that relationship.

  • Excellent post! I really love how Manderley seems to be taking on its own identity for you. Having finished the novel, I feel as though Manderley itself is really an important "character" in the book.

  • Katy F: Absolutely! I think that, unfortunately, the narrator brings a lot of everything on herself – if she had just had the nerve, as you say, to talk to Maxim herself early on, she could have made things so much easier for herself! Like when she talks to Frank about feeling like an outcast – part of me was congratulating her for finally confiding in someone while the other part of me was thinking, "Good effort, wrong person!"

    Carey: Thanks! Weirdly, it was one of the things that struck me pretty much straight away – it's so brooding and ominous and all the characters discuss it as though it's so much more than 'just a house'. I'm so curious about how everything is going to pan out and am glad Manderley maintains its importance to the story!

  • I have great compassion for the narrator as she loves Maxim despite him not being able to love her in the same way. I get why she goes along with it despite it not being how she would have liked it. You will be pleasantly surprised by how the book unfolds.

  • I know how it feels to feel pressure to like someone else's favorite book. You don't want to hurt their feelings, you know?

    I also felt the beginning was slow, but it REALLY picks up at the halfway point. Make sure you have lots of time to read (you'll see what I mean).

    Danvers is SO creepy, isn't she? And I hate how everyone refers to Rebecca as Mrs. de Winter still, like our narrator is nothing.

    I'm glad you're participating!

  • terri-maree: I think the way I feel about her is becoming dependent on my own mood – if I've had a big day at work and am feeling a bit harried, I'll be annoyed at her but if I've had a reasonable day and am feeling soft, I totally sympathise with her.

    Allie: The further I get into the book, the less worried I am about hurting my mum's feelings, so it's ok now 🙂 I'm glad you know what I'm talking about! I've got my whole afternoon cleared out today so I'm hoping to hide away and get stuck in!

    Also, I really meant to mention your point about 'Mrs de Winter' but must have got carried away with other things! It is just so weird and more than a little bit sad…

    I'm really enjoying the readalong so thanks for hosting!

  • Glad to see that you are enjoying this one. I very much related to your fears of not liking a book that someone has labeled a favorite; I often worry that things I recommend to friends will not go over well, and can't help but take it a little personally if they don't agree 🙂

  • Great post. I keep getting really mad at the narrator for not standing up to Danvers. Your post definitely helped me think a little more about Maxim's character.

    Here is a link to my post for the readalong:

  • TheBookGirl: Last year, I bought a very close friend a series of books by her professed favourite author – then proceeded to try and subtly ask her all the time whether she liked them…I think I drove her crazy! So I only recommend them when I'm pretty sure these days – better for my sanity and the recipient's!

    Laura C.: Thanks! I'm not sure why but there's something about Maxim that's a bit…off. The sense of relief and freedom that the narrator seems to experience when he goes away is indicative of the strain the relationship puts on her – I'm becoming more convinced that there's something dodgy going on that involves him and the delightful Danvers!