Tag Archives: rebecca

Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 1

My reading took a somewhat different direction this year. I read very little in the young adult genre, but a lot of mystery and multiple nonfiction works. There were even a few classics because you don’t just stop being an English nerd. Here are my favorite books read in 2016, numbers 10 through 6!

10. Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris

pictures-at-a-revolution

My Classic Hollywood education has naturally progressed to reading. Pictures at a Revolution follows the production of the 1967 Best Picture nominees and the breakdown of the studio system. The book could have easily been a confusing collection of names, but Mark Harris makes the stories easy to follow without feeling the need to refer back to earlier chapters. Like the best writers of film history and analysis, he brings immediacy to the rebellious beginnings of films that are now established classics. I stayed interested from start to finish.

9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

Esther Greenwood is a scholarship student at a prestigious East Coast college doing a summer internship with a women’s magazine in New York City, during which she experiences mental breakdown. Swap Esther Greenwood for Sylvia Plath, and all of these details remain true to her life. While sometimes stressful, The Bell Jar provides spot-on descriptions of the acute pain of depression. Having read a biography of Plath’s early life in 2014, I enjoyed finding the fictional counterparts to real-life people. It’s a tough but worthwhile read.

8. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane

prayers-for-rain

As mentioned in this post, I’ve been reading Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro mysteries this year. I liked all of the books, but Prayers for Rain stands out as a favorite. Being the fifth book about these characters, the emotional threads start to come together in satisfying ways. Patrick and Angie’s repartee is as sharp as ever, and at this point Lehane has become deft at asking complicated moral questions without being heavy-handed. The psychopathic killer also provides a particularly mind-bending mystery for the detectives and the reader.

7. Me Before You by Jojo Meyes

me-before-you

I avoided reading this book for a few years because of the weepy storyline. Then I took it to Florida with me, and while there are weepy moments, I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the characters and pacing. When the movie came out, many people took issue with the story’s approach to the paraplegic character. All I can say as a reader is that I took his choices as particular to him and not representative of how all paralyzed individuals feel or think. To recommend itself, the book has witty dialogue and a narrator worth loving.

6. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca Cover

I had a running joke with my mom about long it took me to read this book. However, the delays were a product of library book interruptions, not a dislike for the book itself. Daphne Du Maurier’s writing reminds me of my favorite Gothic novels. In fact, the setting and plot are somewhat reminiscent of Jane Eyre, which blends the styles of Gothic and Victorian novels. While maintaining its foreboding atmosphere, Rebecca also made me feel a kinship with the narrator. I was glad to take my time with it. (You can read my full review here.)

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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Rebecca, Page and Screen

Rebecca Cover

Rebecca is a classic suspense novel, and since I’ve become interested in that genre in recent years, it seemed only right that I read it. It doesn’t hurt that Alfred Hitchcock directed a film adaptation in 1940. Upon reading the novel, I found that it also bears some similarities to a more recent suspense classic: Gone Girl.

It’s no surprise that Hitchcock took to Daphne du Maurier’s work, as Rebecca is perhaps the Hitchcock-iest novel ever. The narrator is an unnamed young woman who marries wealthy widower Maxim de Winter. When the couple returns to Manderly, his family estate, she finds the house haunted by the memory of his first wife Rebecca. The first Mrs. de Winter left behind a formidable legacy, as well as a housekeeper who is still frighteningly loyal to her departed mistress. Manderly itself is almost a character, serving as a living reminder of Rebecca and the privileged world where the narrator feels out of place.

Rebecca 1

This story is a Hitchcock goldmine for themes of female identity. Think of Vertigo and Scottie’s attempts to recreate the woman he loved and lost. Think of Notorious and Alicia paying for the sins of her father by playing the spy. The second Mrs. de Winter is so overshadowed by the memory of Rebecca that she isn’t even given a name of her own, while Rebecca’s name is the title. But as Scottie found out after her, flesh and blood can never live up to memories biased by love, and memories can be a lie. Although her timidity could be exhausting at times, I felt for the narrator in her insecurities and awkwardness.

A quick search reveals that I’m not the first person to draw the Gone Girl comparison. Both stories contain an absent figure wreaking havoc through the perception of herself left behind. Rebecca is described as able to charm anyone and adapt to any situation, and Gone Girl’s Amy takes pride in being a personality chameleon. On the one hand, we could take these characters as an indictment of female duplicity, with Rebecca’s modest narrator serving as the model for appropriate femininity. Hollywood and Hitchcock take the critique further in that direction, but both of these novels are written by women who understand that identity is a performance. One could argue that their female characters just know how to perform to their advantage.

Rebecca 2

Apart from the suspenseful story line, the visual elements of Rebecca make it primed for adaptation. First and foremost, there’s Manderly, which can be presented as beautiful or foreboding. Within Manderly we have the tangible reminders of Rebecca, particularly her bedroom suite in the west wing. The west wing faces the sea (wild, untamed, potentially dangerous), while the second Mrs. de Winter’s bedroom faces the rose garden (safe, controlled, domestic). There’s also visual delineation to be made between the bright, artificial world of Monte Carlo, where Maxim meets his second wife, and the gothic world of Manderly. And really, contrast is a filmmaker’s best friend.

Rebecca is a classic for many reasons. It can be read in the tradition of the gothic novels that came before it or as a precursor to the psychological thrillers of today. As for me, I’m glad to have another suspenseful lady to add to my list.

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