This Readalong is being hosted over at A Literary Odyssey here - this weekend, those participating will be posting their thoughts on the first half of the novel and, no doubt, speculating on where it will go from here. If you click on the link above, you should be able to check out other bloggers' thoughts on this wonderful book.
So, where to begin?
At first, I wasn't sure what to make of this much adored story. It is to this day one of my mum's favourite books and as soon as I told her I was reading it, she was squeaking away in enthusiasm - I always feel uneasy reading someone I know's favourite books. What if I don't like it? I know how I feel when someone pans a book I adore - a little bit like they've insulted a person I adore - so I was hoping this wouldn't happen.
For the first few chapters, I found my attention drifting. The unnamed narrator is clearly troubled and her thoughts a little haphazard. She seems a little sad, haunted and jaded, which was an interesting start. Comparing that to the shy and awkward teen that she reminisces about and you have a great start - what has driven the innocent and youthful girl to become like this? After this curious start, however, I found the pace dropped a little.
This has picked up again, though. The more I read, the more involved in the house and its characters I become. I'm not a huge Maxim fan - he's clearly damaged irreparably by the infamous Rebecca's death and his manipulation of the besotted narrator is sad to read. From his lacklustre proposal to their arrival at Manderley, I felt so sorry for the future (then new) Mrs de Winter. The contrast between her imagined proposal and wedding day and the reality of Maxim's efforts is heart-breaking! Every girl wants, whether they admit or not, a bit of sparkle in their nuptials - and no, gentlemen, a piece of bitter tangerine is not that sparkle!! And sacrificing the white dress, fine, but an over-the-counter marriage? Hmm...there's more then meets the eye to Mr de Winter, I think!
Speaking of characters, there's certainly an array! As above, there's selfish Maxim de Winter and the introverted narrator. When we get to the house, there's the equally infamous Mrs Danvers with her almost tangible memories of Rebecca. I also think that Firth, who freaks me out no end, deserves a mention. The way he always seems to appear and the way he always says, "Mrs de Winter/The mistress used to..." is insensitive at best. I actually like the irrepressible Beatrice for her refreshing honesty too - the only person not to shroud her knowledge of the house or Rebecca in mystery.
My favourite thing about this novel is Manderley itself - I love the descriptions of the house and its twists and turns, particularly when the new Mrs de Winter first moves there and finds her every move around the house dictated by what Rebecca did: mornings in the Morning Room, afternoon tea in the Library and so on...the house has a chilling quality all of itself and it could just be me but I find something eerie about the descriptions of the rhododendrons too...atmosphere wise, this book deserves its reputation.
While I am enjoying the book, I am finding myself a little frustrated with the narrator even while I feel desperately sorry for her. Obviously Mrs Danvers is appallingly devilish (by likening her to a skeleton, the narrator doesn't help at all there!) but I can't help feeling that if the narrator asserted herself a bit more, she wouldn't feel so victimised and Mrs Danvers wouldn't be so unnerving.
Where to from here? Well I'm obviously hoping that Mrs de Winter learns to start defending herself and being more dynamic and less petulant and self-pitying. I'm hoping that she finds her own way to be the mistress of Manderley and I hope she recognises Maxim for the selfish man he really is. I'm so looking forward to finishing this one and definitely feel a late night coming on...