Every winter, no matter what book I am reading, I find myself drawn to throw it down and reread Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. With its gorgeous writing, incredible sense of place, and tense, creepy atmosphere, Rebecca is, in my opinion, a modern masterpiece of fiction.
Despite knowing that modern sequels will not be as good as the original, I find myself drawn to them. Perhaps they will shed some new light on one of my favourite works. So when I spotted Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman on the shelf at The Book Store, I just had to grab it and make it mine. It seemed to have received rave reviews, and I allowed this to stifle my doubts.
While the style is not, as advertised, very similar to DuMaurier's, this book did raise some interesting questions that I had only recently begun to think about myself. For example, why was there no mention of Rebecca's family besides Favell?
SPOILERS (some of these will spoil Rebecca as well as Rebecca's Tale, so be warned!)
Why was there so much blood if she was shot cleanly through the heart, and how could a shot through the heart not leave a mark on the skeleton?
Why did Rebecca send a note to Favell on the night that she died? Was she going to tell him about her cancer, or did she have another reason for bringing him to the boathouse?
Why did Maxim carry a loaded gun if he only intended to frighten Rebecca and her lover?
In this book, Beauman casts doubt on a lot of the veracity of Maxim de Winter's account of his dealings with Rebecca. Less successfully, she tries to build a past for Rebecca that includes acting professionally in a small-time travelling troupe, makes her Maxim's forgotten first cousin, gives her an illegitimate younger brother, and makes Colonel Julyan into Rebeccas' greatest admirer. Worse, she makes her the victim of a childhood rape (which somehow sounds made-up) that has apparently resulted in Rebecca hating all males. It is hinted that she has murdered multiple men and calmly stated that she sleeps with multiple men (women are hinted at as well) while married.
Despite all of this, Rebecca is held up as an example to follow for her independence, verve, and freedom of spirit. In the less interesting story that is told to frame Rebecca's, Colonel Julyan's daughter ends up using the question "what would Rebecca do?" to guide her life choices. While I understand the fascination that Rebecca inspires, seeing people of the fifties choosing Rebecca as a role model just didn't ring true. She sleeps around, lies constantly, and very likely murders people, so let's be like her because she's beautiful and unique? No thanks, and I think that most normal people of the 1950s would agree with me. Another problem that I had with this book was that historically, the fact that multiple characters come out of the closet and no one seems to care is pretty unrealistic, a problem I have found in a lot of modern books. Whatever your views today, the fact is that in recent times past people were just not so casual about homosexuality. Making all of one's characters have attitudes that put them "ahead of their time" is just lazy.
Overall, this is a fun book to read on a stormy night, and I found some parts of Rebecca's past plausible, but would have to say it is far from anything Daphne du Maurier would have written. Rebecca's Tale lacks subtlety and atmosphere and is not beautifully written like the original. There will be no lines you will want to copy into a book of quotes, and the story about Colonel Julyan, his daughter, and a young man looking for his connection to Rebecca is ultimately very forgettable. As would be expected, it is Rebecca herself who remains vivid and fascinating, though the reader will probably reject some of her background as silly. This book is worth reading if you are a Rebecca fanatic, so long as you read it with only moderate expectations.
I would give it 3 out of 5 stars on a generous day.