I almost don't want to write this review. I have been lost in the world of Manderley, submersed in writing that was so perfect, I fear that if I breathe any of my clumsy words or awkward sentences onto the book, it will break the spell and the story will be ruined.
However, one of the main reasons I love writing reviews is because it captures the story for me. When I read my old reviews, it sparks memories that I'd forgotten, and I remember details of the book that otherwise would have faded irretrievably away.
And so, I will try to explain why reading Rebecca was one of the best reading experiences I've ever had. I make no promises about not alluding to any important plot details, so if you haven't read this book, then skip this review; instead, go get the book. Part of the magic and intrigue of the story for me was that I knew very little about the storyline before reading. The plot unfolded just as it was intended...creeping quietly with a slow intensity that was both frightening and captivating.
The story is narrated by Maxim de Winter's second wife. We never learn her name. His first wife, Rebecca, supposedly drowned in a terrible storm. She was very much-loved and is sorely missed by all who knew her. Maxim does not speak of her often, but the narrator feels her presence everywhere...in the gardens, at the writing desk, even when she puts on an old, forgotten raincoat. She tries to handle the menu and the daily routine and the social obligations like Rebecca, but she knows she is nothing like Rebbecca and finds it so oppressive to live in someone else's shadow...
As I am sitting here writing this, I am flipping through a copy of the book. It doesn't matter which page I turn to, as soon as I begin reading, I am once more engrossed in the story, and I don't want to stop. I actually listened to an audio version of the book, but reading passages here and there right now makes me realize that I will love it in print just as much as I loved listening to it. I wish I could put my finger on why it is so good. Something about the balance between narration and dialogue and description, and also between past and present and future, and also between reality and fantasy is just so perfect. It's the momentum of being pushed forward and then abruptly tugged backward. I'm feeling frustrated trying to find a way to describe it...I keep thinking of the word "atmospheric," but it's something else, too. Something more.
One of the elements of the writing that I loved and that's a little easier to pinpoint is the way the narrator envisions and describes the possible conversations or actions of strangers. For example, the night of the fancy dress ball, she sees two gardeners outside. As they walk away, she is suddenly lost in thought and imagines what they will say that evening when the festivities are over. Sometimes it's not conversations she's thinking of but alternate events in the past. For example, when she sits at Rebecca's writing desk for the first time, she opens a drawer at random and suddenly feels as though she is merely a house guest and has been given permission to use the desk only to be caught snooping through its contents. Sometimes the flashbacks are real, and we catch a glimpse of the narrator's personality by visiting a scene from her past. In all cases, these types of reminiscences and imaginings are so vivid and alluring so that when the narrator is abruptly and sometimes startlingly brought back to the present, as the reader, you are, too. You feel guilty and embarrassed for getting lost in thought even though you weren't really lost in thought but instead just lost in amazing writing.
Besides the writing itself, the story has some really gripping, white-knuckle moments. There was one evening when I was listening to it, and Mike was at school, but he came home earlier than I was expecting, right as I was in the middle of a very intense scene. I wanted to talk to him, but it was agony to pull myself away. Only for him.
Now, just a brief word on the audio. The edition I listened to was narrated by Anna Massey. She was fabulous...absolutely, completely fabulous. It's funny because for the first ten minutes, I thought her voice was going to irritate me...something about the way she rolled a few of her R's. But after the initial adjustment, I loved everything about her performance...especially the way she did the fictitious conversations and flashbacks that I described above. I can't speak for other narrations, but I can definitely recommend this one.
I have read a lot of good books this year. In fact, it's been one of the best years in reading I've ever had. I tell you this so that when I say Rebecca is the best book I read in 2012, and definitely among my favorites of all time, you will know just how much I absolutely loved it.