BOOK REVIEW: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (The Folio Society Edition)

It is my pleasure to write a review of The Folio Society’s illustrated edition of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’. This Cornish author was ever-present throughout my childhood (my mum had her complete works in green hardbacks) and I can remember looking at the copy of ‘Rebecca” and leafing through it, excited for the day when I could read such grown-up stories. That day finally came in my early twenties. I had moved out by then and had sort of forgotten about Du Maurier in pursuit of more popular, ‘proper’ classics like Dickens, which I believe to be evident of the way that she was, for so long, forgotten about in mainstream culture. I must have eventually found my way back to the memory of those green hardbacks though and as an introduction to Du Maurier’s work, I probably thought there was no better place to start than her bestselling and fifth novel. How glad I am that I did! It is a brilliant novel and has remained one of my top 5 books of my lifetime so far.

Du Maurier’s narrative is filled with subtle drama, gripping suspense and characters that will intrigue and fascinate you. The female protagonist (we never learn of her first name) meets the widower Max de Winter, whilst working in the South of France. He is older in both years and experience and immediately, despite her attraction to him, we are made aware of her feeling inadequate and at times foolish in light of his sophisticated maturity. She is nonetheless entranced by him and he too announces his love for her. They marry and she is taken back to the vast house he calls home, Manderley. Max’s staff are surprised by this sudden new marriage but it is soon clear that for some, the new Mrs de Winter is an unwelcome addition to the estate, namely the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, who is at once both terrifying and absorbing. As this new resident of Manderley tries to make it her home and assert her authority (both over the people she meets and the house itself), she is constantly overwhelmed by the invisible presence of her husband’s first wife, Rebecca. The memory of the former mistress of the house hangs about like a thick fog and threatens to engulf our young protagonist to the point of madness. We learn that the mysterious Mrs Danvers has more to do with all of this than first meets the eye and as the story unfolds, Du Maurier leads us along what I think, is a haunting narrative filled with mystery, intrigue and thrill. As events unfold towards the end, I felt genuinely satisfied to have finally discovered the truth and just as we sense the author tying all the ends together in the final chapter, the very last sentence throws up yet another twist in the tale.

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Illustration by D.G. Smith from The Folio Society edition of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier ©D.G. Smith 2017

This novel is, quite frankly, excellent and some of the best story-telling I have ever encountered. I loved it so much after the first read, I immediately moved on to the rest of Du Maurier’s work and was not disappointed (should you want to discover other titles for yourself, do try ‘The Parasites’ and ‘The Scapegoat” as well as her short story collections such as ‘The Breaking Point’).

So, it is clear that the story of ‘Rebecca’ itself should receive no bad press as far as I’m concerned, but what about this particular edition by the The Folio Society? Firstly, to refer once again to my childhood memories of being surrounded by books, I should note that my love for reading was coupled early on with a passion for the very books themselves. I know I am not alone in this. The feel, smell and design of a book continues to seduce me and probably always will, despite my ever shrinking book shelves. In short, I love The Folio Society for creating beautiful books for beauty’s sake. I also love a paperback that I can read in the bath and rest my coffee cup on. Thank goodness there is room for both in the world.

This hardback edition of ‘Rebecca’ comes in a poppy red sleeve. The book itself is clothbound, charcoal grey and embossed with the initials of Rebecca de Winter with red & gold flowers, which I think evoke well the passion and drama of the story inside. The novel is introduced by novelist Helen Dunmore (who sadly died last year) and illustrated by D.G. Smith. There are small black and white illustrations dotted throughout and six full-page colour drawings, depicting major scenes from the narrative. My favourite of them is the one of Mrs Danvers, who Smith has captured in all her terror and ominosity. Overall, I did feel the illustrations lacked a certain darkness and were a little twee, if not well-crafted. I would have liked them to evoke a greater sense of the horror and suspense encountered in the story. I can’t help but think that the use of a pencil-like medium to draw these scenes resulted in a softness which took away from any edginess that might have been achieved otherwise. Even if the six larger illustrations were printed in black and white, I sense the effect would have been a more accurate portrayal of the themes Du Maurier was so brilliant at writing.

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Illustration by D.G. Smith from The Folio Society edition of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier ©D.G. Smith 2017

I do like this book because it is a high quality, beautifully bound edition of one of my most beloved novels. However, as much as I long to love it, the illustrations just leave me wanting. Perhaps that’s because the images a reader creates in one’s mind on first encountering a book are so unique and personal that being confronted with contradictory images, sits uncomfortably. So that said, I still applaud The Folio Society for publishing this book. I do hope that one day they go on to print other titles from Du Maurier. She deserves it.

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Rebecca is available to purchase from The Folio Society here.

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Reviewed by Anna Jeffery

Daphne du Maurier

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Daphne du Maurier was a British author and playwright. Born in London in 1907 to the prominent actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont, she was educated at home and later in Paris. In 1928 she began writing short stories and articles, and in 1931 her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published. Among her most well-known works are the novels Jamaica Inn (1936), Frenchman’s Creek (1941) and My Cousin Rachel (1951), and the short stories ‘The Birds’ (1952) and ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1971). Like many of Du Maurier’s novels, Rebecca (1938), an immediate best-seller that has never been out of print, was not at first taken seriously by critics, but has since become recognised as a masterpiece of storytelling. Du Maurier lived most of her life in Cornwall, where many of her books are set. She died in 1989.

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