This is one of those classics that I should have read sooner but didn’t. Such is life.
It’s a beautiful, elegant book. I’m going to watch the movie at some point as well.
Basically, it follows the path of a young girl as she meets a rich widower and marries him. All seems well until they go back to his home, Manderley. Manderley is an elegant, old estate, and the new bride (who never gets a name) feels ill-equipped to handle it. Added to her issues is the fact that her housekeeper, an imposing woman named Mrs. Danvers, is still devoted to the first wife, Rebecca.
She soon discovers that the shadow of Rebecca is hanging over everything she ever does. Her bedroom is newly renovated because the rooms used by Rebecca and her husband are shut off, kept exactly as they were when Rebecca died.
All the friends and neighbors she meet talk about how wonderful and vivacious Rebecca was, how beautiful she was and how memorable her parties. On a walk with her husband, the dog wanders to a hidden cove with a small cottage, but her husband won’t go there and bans her from going back there.
She tries her hardest to be as good as Rebecca, as lovely and as popular, but in that she is thwarted by Mrs. Danvers who does her best to make her feel inferior and sabotages her efforts at every turn.
As the situation progresses, it starts to seem like not only was Rebecca not the saint she appeared to be, but that there is some deep dark secret that is associated with her death. Her husband, who has been withdrawn and uncommunicative since they got back home after their honeymoon, eventually tells the truth to his new wife and from there everything goes to hell.
It’s a tragic, sad story, but it is beautifully written and conveys an almost gothic atmosphere that you hardly ever see done (or at least, hardly ever seen done well) lately. It’s not a long book, and it’s a classic, and I definitely recommend it.
Side note: if you read the Jasper Fforde “Eyre Affair” series you’ll find that Mrs. Danvers is a recurring character that causes havoc for the main character. That was my first introduction to Mrs. Danvers and the entire conceit is far more amusing having actually read Rebecca.