I Killed Rebecca (total utter spoilers)

(I tried to find a video to stick in here of 'I killed Rebecca' by Ephel Duath, but there isn't one online. I must be doing something right. Here's a really difficult to follow live performance of it, from when they were a three-piece:

Also, the song is nothing to do with the story, and I have that on authority. But still.)

I've just finished reading Daphne Du Maurier's 'Rebecca', and well, boy do I have opinions on that one. Massive spoilers from here on in, so, I'm assuming you've read it (or have watched an adaptation and know the differences from the book). I just want to add something to the discussion about it that I think is a half-original thought.

I picked this book up off the shelf on reputation; I only know Maurier as the author of 'The Birds' and 'Don't Look Know', both of which I've only seen as films. I'd absolutely no idea of what the plot was or anything, and I was quite happy about that so I didn't even read the blurb on the back. I like not knowing. I like going into a work of fiction, and not only being ignorant of the story arc, but even the genre. We learn that Maxim's first wife died at sea; is this going to be a ghost story? A romance? Both, or neither?

It turns out the story is something else entirely. Pure tragedy, really, but a deeply ironic one. If you're reading this, you'll know the details; The Second Mrs de Winter lollops about in a frustratingly unconfident way for the first two acts, her lack of self-worth and monosyllabic answers to any question making the book almost unreadable at times. Then in the third act, the twist in the tale leads to a complete re-evaluation of everything you've been reading, and a linear progression of events that leads to an unhappy ending.

After I finished reading, I went back to the informative introduction, which clarified many plot points. But I'm slightly unsatisfied (in a pleasant way) with the third act, and it goes a little something like this:

The twist is, we find out that Maxim never loved Rebecca, and hasn't been mourning her all this time, but in fact hated her. That's fine, because it means everyone can get on with their lives, and The Second Mrs de Winter can stop being such a misery and find her feet, except that two sentences later we are told that he in fact murdered her, and will probably be going to prison for a long time. So much for their happiness.

I found this twist really frustrating. It meant that the whole novel had been a complete wild goose chase, all The Second Mrs de Winter's angst was over some bullshit. I mean, I liked where it went, and the meta-twist at the end was great in context, but it just didn't fit with the rest of the story. Yeah, I'd picked up that Rebecca was really evil from the couple of hints dropped, but the plot just seemed to drop everything that was building up and go off in a completely different direction. Danvers never gets her comeuppance for tormenting The Second Mrs de Winter, Maxim wandering off all night after the fancy-dress ball turns out to be nothing, Frank's concerns seem to get lost in the ship wreck; the whole thing just seems to be brushed under the carpet (if you don't know what I'm talking about, this must sound quite weird, but you would probably have stopped way back there). It's like the advent of the ship wreck just off the coast seems to stop everything in it's tracks and turn the novel into a completely different one; rather than being a jane-eyre style romangst, it becomes a hitchcockian 'will the (justified) murderer and his accomplice-after-the-fact get away with it?'.

This reminds me of one of the points about fiction in Hoftstadter's 'Godel Escher Bach': how to end a book so that the readers don't see the end coming, and can't use their knowledge about the size of the book to predict how close they are to the end. He posits the idea - and experiments with it himself - that something utterly strange and beyond belief should occur in the plot, to signify that the story has actually finished.

That's what it feels like happens in the story to me. The story has built up to a climax: after the disastrous fancy dress party, Maxim is nowhere to be found, and Danvers is trying to convince The Second Mrs de Winter to jump out of the window of Rebecca's bedroom. The Second Mrs de Winter is actually being convinced, and if it's not for the rockets let off by the breached ship, we don't know if she would have jumped. She has vulnerably low self-esteem, she's in thrall to the spirit of Rebecca, and let's face it, she's daft. The rest of the story after this point has so little to do with the lead up that I'm inclined to think it's the fantasy of a still-throbbing brain dashed out on the patio, thinking it's way to a resolution as happy as possible. Or even just a signal to us that we should stop reading.

But it's a great book, and I've never been so reticent to watch an adaptation of a book as with this one. The characters were so fully fleshed out in my mind that I could see it so clearly in my head and didn't want to see anybody else's vision of it. Having watched the very good and certainly lavish ITV adaptation, it's frustrating that Maxim isn't dark and wiry enough, Beatrice isn't Honoria Glossop enough, Jack isn't a flabby pathetic drunk enough, and Danvers isn't literally a grim reaper. Next, onto the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation. I'll let you know how it compares.

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