Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, looked around the darkened room, and for a split second thought there was someone there – only to realise it’s just a pile of coats?
Now you have an idea of what you’re in for when you crack into Rebecca.
The title alone is an ominous clue; the book is named after a woman who never actually appears in the story. In fact, she’s dead before it even begins. But we’ll come back to that.
The real story begins innocently enough. A young woman working as a companion (like a PA you hang out with) for a wealthy woman in the south of France, and like all great romances, has a chance encounter with Maxim de Winter – life will never be the same again.
He’s everything you’ve come to expect from a decent leading man. He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s fabulously wealthy. Did we mention he’s tortured? Very tortured. He’s come to Monte Carlo to recover from the loss of his first wife, and can’t bear the sight of anyone, except of course, our heroine, whose name by the way we never actually learn.
One whirlwind courtship later and she’s the new Mrs de Winter, rocking up to Manderley, her husband’s estate in Cornwall, blissfully happy and totally unconcerned with her sudden change in consequence.
That all comes crashing down in a hot minute though when she meets Mrs Danvers – the housekeeper – who was, it’s worth mentioning, very attached to Max’s first wife, Rebecca.
Here’s where things start to go a bit pear shaped. It turns out the new Mrs de Winter is totally unprepared to deal with a hostile housekeeper, a moody husband and an estate where the ghost of Rebecca metaphorically haunts the halls. And really, who could blame her?
This isn’t just a story about a dead woman and a big house. Rebecca is suspenseful, atmospheric and a total masterclass in plotting. Our narrator suffers from some serious imposter syndrome, and behind the twists and turns this book also has a lot to say about obsession, keeping up appearances, and the stories we’re prepared to tell ourselves and eachother.
If you needed a stronger endorsement, consider this: Hollywood’s master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, adapted Rebecca into film in 1940 and took home the gong for Best Picture at the Oscars while he was at it. The two versions however, slightly differ, and if you want the whole story, you’d better start with the book. It’s perfect for long nights, rainy days and readers who want something suspenseful but not necessarily terrifying.