There is a reason why, when you mention Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier to certain people, their eyes light up and their lips purse into an "oooh" before they tell you just how wonderful a book it is... but refuse to go in to anything vaguely plot-specific if you have not yet read it. These people will only say limited things when pressed, opting for phrases like "I don't want to say too much" or the always infuriating "you'll see." At most, they might quote its famous opening line: "Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again." This is usually accompanied by self-satisfied smiles, as one might observe on the cat who got the cream, and then they will sit back to purr over the memory of reading the book now that the discussion is clearly over, for nothing more will be said when it comes to specifics.

Forgive me, then, for my purring, but Rebecca is a reading pleasure that simply must be experienced to be understood. I first read Rebecca in high school after having my first encounter as described above. Because the person in question was a girl I always held in high regard, I allowed her appreciation to push me into picking up the book... and I don't believe I set it down until I had finished. I found it left me breathless as it surged forward with twists that other "suspense" or "mystery" novels look upon with deep, covetous envy. I loved it and joined the legion of "oooh"ers who simply would not say too much.

The downside to sitting in silent appreciation and not discussing the plot of a novel means that it's entirely possible to forget certain details. The horrifying realization that I had actually forgotten the exact ending of Rebecca came upon me a little less than a month ago. Now I realize that perhaps this is to do with the fact that Rebecca's true genius lies in crafting a scene and pervading atmosphere, but I knew the only thing to do was to re-read the book. This is exactly the thing many readers wish for... the chance to read a favorite book again "for the first time," though my reading was always accompanied by a familiarity of tone and scene. Eventually, the facts came back to me and the ending was once again remembered, but having started, there was no way to stop. Only the intervening holidays allowed me to set the book down at all... allowing me the supreme joy of reading the last half while snowed in to my parents' home, a blizzard raging outside that demanded I do nothing except drink tea and turn pages. Who was I to defy the elements?

The very basic storyline concerns an unnamed narrator recounting events that occurred as she was still a very young woman, though just how much time has passed between those events and the telling can't be all that long. Without family or any other means of support, she had taken as job as a companion to a rather boorish American woman and together they were in a hotel on the French Riveria when they met Maxim de Winter, a wealthy English widower who is not terribly interested in grand socializing, particularly with the older American woman, but who takes a quiet though immediate interest in our narrator (even though the reason for this is rather a mystery to her). After two weeks of car rides and luncheons (during which the American woman has been ill), the narrator's employer decides they should leave for New York straight away; with the thought of never seeing Mr. de Winter again in her mind, the narrator impetuously rushes to his room to say goodbye -- and instead, he suggests they marry. After a quick and quiet wedding and an Italian honeymoon, he takes her back to his family's estate, Manderley, and the story really begins as the young narrator struggles with her inadequacies in filling the role of lady of the estate, particularly under the ghost of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. Maxim almost never speaks of her and the narrator is too scared to raise the issue, though the rather spectral housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is only too willing to speak of her beloved Rebecca, a charming and beautiful woman who did everything well and was apparently beloved by all. Rebecca was drowned a year earlier in the bay during a squall, but the narrator is always aware of Rebecca's presence in the house and her own inability to live up to such a perfect predecessor.

It's pure, undistilled tension as you really connect with the fears and insecurities of the narrator. It's also filled with twisted, tortured relationships and long, beautiful descriptions of gardens. It's those detailed passages that really capture the emotions coursing through the book -- the loneliness, isolation, fear, and longing. This reading will likely kick off a Daphne du Maurier reading kick on my end... as winter is the perfect time to curl up with something dark and suspenseful.

Seriously, though, it's brilliant.

I don't want to say too much... but you'll see.

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