The first thing that surprised me about this book was the time period it was set in. Usually “classics” are set in times before 1900/1910. This book actually takes place in the thirties, after the invention of cars, telephones, and general connection to electricity. It had a faint Gatsby type quality to it. The second thing that surprised me was that the narrator never gave her name. Throughout the book she is not addressed directly, except as “Mrs. de Winter” after she is married. It was quite interesting for some reason.
The narrator is a young woman you first me working as a companion to an American woman in Monte Carlo. There she meets Maximillian de Winter, a recent widower. The two have a very fast courtship and marry within the month. The return to Manderley, his well-known estate house. As the narrator settles in to married life (and during her courtship), she becomes aware that any reference to Maxim’s first wife Rebecca causing great tension within him. He doesn’t like to talk about her or hear her mentioned. At the house, she feels the anger of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who resents her taking Rebecca’s place. The narrator feels a constant competition going on between herself and the deceased Rebecca. This causes much heartache, pain, and tension through the first half of the book. Everything comes to a head at the Fancy Dress Ball that is held in her honor. Afterwards, you learn a great deal more about the drama that unfolded at the house before her arrival and the previous Mrs. de Winter’s death. The twists and turns the story takes at this point are quite fascinating and you really get to know and like several characters.
As I read it, I could see how it was considered a classic. The story line was quite interesting, but took it a step further by adding twists and turns one never saw coming. It takes a while though to really get into it. I had a feeling like I was reading Wuthering Heights for a while, where you hate (actually feel rage and hate) toward many of the characters in the book. It gives the impression of a twisted love story for a while. After the Fancy Dress Ball there is a marked change in numerous characters that improves the story greatly for the better. You let out a sigh of relief when you discover the different truths scattered throughout Manderley and with the de Winter household. I have trouble deciding whether or not I like the book actually. I really despised the beginning, actually wanted to stop reading it, but my husband assured me it was well worth it to finish. He was quite right. I was glad I finished it, not exactly happy about the way it ended, sort of a cliff hanger, but it ended strong. I chose to go with 4 cheese bits instead of 3 for my rating because I would read it again if I was looking for an interesting, non-traditional story.