Rebecca

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

finished this book for the umpteenth time over 4 months ago, and I loved it just as much as every other time that I’ve read it. So you’d think a review would have been easy, but this is a complicated book to talk about without giving too much away. I tried getting my thoughts in order right after finishing it but with moving into a new house about the same time, taking care of 4 kids, and training for a marathon I just ran out of time and brain power for awhile. Now the marathon is over and there seems to be a brief calm in the storm of house and yard projects so I think I might have enough focus for a review. I’m sure the package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Oreos I just finished off will help me focus too.

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A young and inexperienced lady’s maid is quickly and surprisingly swept of her feet by the wealthy and charming widower, Maxim de Winter. They are married quickly and return to his estate where the new Mrs. de Winter tries to find her place in a way of life she knows nothing about, and where the memory of Max’s first wife seems to overshadow every room, conversation, and event.  Rebecca’s power from beyond the grave haunts the new, timid bride until all hope for the marriage seems lost. But when the past resurfaces assumptions are questioned and hard choices have to be made.

My Review

This time reading Rebecca I noticed much more how little action there really is in the plot and yet I still consider this one of the greatest and suspense books of all time. So I have to ask myself, what is it that rivets me? What really makes it so great?

Well to start the writing is a work of art. Such intelligent and insightful description without being pompous or overdone. On the first page we read, “Nature had come into her own again and little by little in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers.” Describing an overgrown driveway like this gives not only a visual, but also a feeling. Giving nature a persona, making it a character, continues throughout the book. The descriptions truly give nature power and influence in not just the setting but in the events as well. Nature also plays the role of clairvoyant; it provides omens of the events to come, good or bad.

The method of plot development is also very unique. As I said, not that much actually happens in the book. There are a few events that occur, but the true conflict in the story is rooted in something that happened in the characters’ pasts. To reveal that past and to develop how it affects the present there is so much storytelling that happens within the head of the first-person narrator. Her own misconceptions provide the plot base for pretty much the whole first half of the book and then a major revelation and her having to realign her misconceptions is essentially the plot for the second half. That could sound pretty boring – a story happening inside a character’s mind much of the time – but Du Maurier masterfully builds tension through description that makes the pages come alive and characterizations that resurrect ghosts.

Some of the most intriguing characterization comes from the contrast in the narrator and Rebecca. Just their names give insight – the first name of our plain, quiet, unassuming narrator is never given. After she and Max are married she is Mrs. de Winter and we are given no other title with which to identify her. She is the narrator and main character, but the title of the book is “Rebecca.” Rebecca is the name we all know and love, or dread depending on the perspective. Just this little detail in the use of character names reveals so much about the characters themselves as well as the book’s themes.

Ah, and the themes in this book! This is where it becomes difficult to not give too much away. My previous post discussed one theme – choices and consequences and how misconceptions affect both. Mrs. De Winter spends so much time living out “what if’s” in her mind, playing out elaborate scenarios which have such detail that we as readers and the narrator take them to be reality.

The theme that makes this book unique and, so I’ve been told, even controversial in some book clubs, is determining the morality of the character’s actions. Do their motivations matter? Should the choices of others be taken into consideration? Is justice served at the end? Not only do we analyze the character’s choices and the resulting consequences, but we get to ask ourselves how we feel about them. We know what is wrong and right according to law and our conscience. Do the events of this book go against that knowledge? Is your heart reacting differently than you think it should? I have spoken with some who were uncomfortable confronting these kind of “greys” in the moral spectrum, but they are what take this book beyond being just a beautifully written and suspenseful romance and into the realm of a Classic.

Age Recommendation: High School age and older. Definitely for mature readers. I wouldn’t say the writing is difficult to read, but it is more “old-fashioned” and intelligent than your average work of fiction. The themes and events of the book also need a discerning mind.

Appropriateness: I would recommend it for any book club or high school and college English class, but as I said, there are some who have found it more controversial. But that just gives even more material for great discussion! No offensive or off-color language that I remember. No detailed sexual content, just married couple kissing and some reference that indicates a married couple were intimate.

Book Recommendations: If you like Rebecca I recommend Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel both by Daphme Du Maurier. You may also like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak,  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Eruption by Adrienne Quintana.

If you have already read the book….

Here some of the ingenious aspects and insights that I loved reading Rebecca this time:

  1. On page 36 The narrator talks about wanting to bottle memory and I could so relate! There are just those perfect moments that you wish you could somehow keep forever just the way they are. How would it be to uncork the memory at some later date and have it to relive all over again? But isn’t that the irony?  Those moments are so perfect because we are completely IN them.  We are present, not worried about the past or future, just there. I can relate to the narrator’s melancholy that comes afterward as well, when you realize you can’t bottle the memory and it will fade. The joy and sadness combined make the moment that much more powerful.
  2. On page 44 the narrator describes how traveling changes you.  You leave something behind whenever you a leave a place while at the same time part of that place comes with you and makes you a different person than you were before.  I love that about traveling.  And I love that reading books can have the same effect.
  3. In Chapter 15 Mrs. De Winter goes to visit Maxim’s grandmother.  She compares the elderly to children. They can both be a hassle and tiring, but we try to be polite anyway. She points out though, that we can remember being children and so can better understand them; maybe that gives us more patience.  We have not been old yet and so may not be able to relate as well. But as Mrs. De Winter thinks about how the grandmother may have been as a young lady, it gives her more sympathy.  My grandmother is declining with alzheimer’s and I could completely relate to the thoughts and feelings expressed.
  4. It’s fascinating how reading the book for the first time you can get caught up in the idea that Maxim must still be in love with Rebecca. The way Mrs. De Winter perceives all the events, descriptions, and interactions sure makes it seem that way.  And Rebecca played her deception well. But when you read it again know the truth there are so many hints and clues to the true nature of Rebecca and Maxim’s relationship.
  5. I have always been amazed at the clear picture of Rebecca that is painted for us and for Mrs. De Winter. She is dead from the start of the book and yet we learn more about her than we do of the narrator.  Of course because she is dead, all we know about Rebecca comes from people’s descriptions of her beauty and talents, and from the things she left behind. Her handwriting, her clothes, her coat, her smell, her habits as described by the staff, and her style still left at Manderley give Rebecca presence and influence even beyond the grave.  However, none of these things reveal her character and so we can be misled just like Mrs. De Winter.

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Rebecca – just a little taste

Rhododendron – you’ll never look at them the same after reading this book.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  These words are like an old friend. They set the stage for the beautiful mystery that is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

We moved to a new house a few weeks ago so reading has been a luxury I’ve given up the last month or so in order to do packing and unpacking. But tonight I wanted to escape into a story for awhile.  Maybe because my focus has been on our house recently I was drawn to a story in which a house plays such a significant role. You could say that the Manderley estate is one of the characters in Rebecca.  It’s the first thing we are introduced to; it’s the first chapter and the first line.

I was only able to read a chapter and a half tonight, but the beauty of the prose and the genius description in just those few pages completely pulled me in. “Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers.” Talk about perfection in verb and adjective usage. Du Maurier was an artist; she knew how to paint a picture with words.

This book makes it into my top 5 favorites. I have read it so many times I’ve lost count, and I can’t wait to get lost in its pages again. I’m looking forward to having a forum this time in which I can share the greatness of Rebecca with others, so I will keep my actual book review for after I finish, but this book is just SO GOOD right from the start that I had to share some love now. If you haven’t read Rebecca pick it up and let’s journey through it’s intricate characterization and haunting beauty together.

The Little Prince

This is one of my all time favorite books…Ok I’m going to take the leap and say it IS MY #1ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK.  So to review it sufficiently will require a little of my personal history, biographical info about the author, and some interpretation and analysis. It will be just like high school English class all over again! (Get Excited! Get Get Excited! I say G-E-T..Sorry little high school flashback there.) But the book is just that great!

(Side note – I highly recommend the original English translation. The newer translations just lose some of the beauty and poetry of the language.)

It’s not easy to give athe_little_prince summary of The Little Prince. It’s one thing to tell what happens and another to explain what it is about. I can summarize the happenings by the end of this paragraph. It will take pages to attempt to express what it means to me. The story is told by a pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert, cut off from all civilization. As he is trying to fix his plane he hears a little voice request, “Draw me a sheep.” That is how he meets the golden-haired “Little Prince” who came to Earth with a flock of birds from his small planet. Over time the pilot learns of the other planets the Little Prince visited and more of the Prince’s own precious planet, and of the vain little flower that prompted him to leave it. In the process the pilot is reminded of what is essential for happiness.

Growing up I had a fascination with all things French and this book is just so FRENCH. My dad lived in France and Switzerland for 2 ½ years as a missionary so he spoke French fluently and introduced us to French foods and culture. He read to us Asterix and Obelix, Petit Nicolas, and of course The Little Prince. As a 9 year old I thought the grownups and their quirks were funny, and I found it refreshing to finally have someone give us kids a little credit for knowing important things too, to have someone finally understand how “tiresome [it is] for children to be always and forever explaining things to [the grownups].”  

planetThe idea of the Little Prince on his quaint little planet, barely bigger than a house, with volcanos to clean out (both the active and extinct since “one never knows…”) was as magical to me as any fairy tale. I fell in love the Little Prince, with his independent spirit and his desire to have friends and to care for them. I felt sad for him, being betrayed by his flower and having to leave her, then to have to leave the fox, and finally the pilot, but I respected his selflessness. I worried about those pesky Baobab roots, and I wanted to hold and hug the Little Prince to keep him away from the bite of the golden snake. But then I believed he made it back to his star so it was a happy ending after all.

The next time I read the book was for French class so I read it in it’s original French and I loved it even more, probably because the syntax in French is so much more poetic and beautiful but also because I was older and was able to pick out the deeper meaning. Also I learned more about the author in class and knowing his story definitely gives the book more impact.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a pilot and loved it. He flew in war and in times of peace and received many awards and recognitions for it. He wrote the The Little Prince while in New York trying to convince the US to join WWII; the dedication in the book makes a lot of sense when you realize he was worried about his friends in France who were suffering the deprivations of war. When I found out Saint-Exupery actually crashed in the Sahara desert during a flight it gave me a new perspective on The Little Prince; he truly knew what being stranded in the desert heat without water or help in sight was like, and yet he chose to write about it with the wit, tenderness, and innocence of a child’s perspective rather than the drama, suspense, and worry of an adult. I like his outlook on life. The most interesting fact of all about the author is that he mysteriously disappeared over the Mediterranean, much like The Little Prince’s body disappearing from the desert sand.  If you want to know more about Antoine de Saint-Exupery go here.

I have now read The Little Prince in French and English countless times and each time I am filled with a range of emotions; I laugh, I cry, I ponder. The book is often categorized as a fable or parable because the funny and tender anecdotes actually reveal the foibles and follies of humanity, as well as our strengths and purpose for living. Jesus Christ in the New Testament counseled to become as a little child, and this book advises the same. Keep the hope and faith that allows children to be fascinated by the world and to find joy in the smallest things, like shapes in the clouds or the comfort of a loved toy. Keep the ability to love, forgive, and befriend that comes to children so naturally. Spend time on the things that matter; look outside yourself, be brave and seek to understand and experience all the beauties this world has to offer, work hard to contribute to world around you, and develop relationships built on trust and sacrifice.THe Little Prince

It is so much more fun and so much more powerful to learn these truths as you follow the Little Prince’s journey, so if you haven’t read it before, do. Do it now! You will make a lifelong friend and “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars [the Little Prince] shall be living. In one of them [he] shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

(You can find more of my favorite quotes from the book below.)

Age Recommendation: It is written as a children’s book with whimsical illustration so children will enjoy it. Probably 8 and older. But the true meaning of the story is for adults. The book dedication reminds us that “All grownups were once children though few of them remember it.” So I would say this book is for children and for the grownups who remember.

Appropriateness and Themes: Nothing to worry about here; the book content is clean and innocent as can be, but provides so much discussion material. This is a fantastic choice for book club, family read aloud, literature classes, and just for fun. Here is a list of discussion questions:

  1. What makes a career/hobby/pastime valuable? to yourself? to others?
  2. What does it mean to “tame” someone/something? Who/what has tamed you? Who/what have you tamed? How did you do it?
  3. What are the essential things that are invisible to the eye?
  4. How do adults lose the ability to see the elephant in the boa constrictor or the sheep in the box?
  5. baobabWhat baobab roots do you deal with in your life? What do you do on a daily basis to pull them up before they become a huge tree and take over?
  6. What experiences in your life have been as rewarding as the drink from the desert well for the pilot and The Little Prince?
  7. What reminders to you have in your life like the singing of the well and the stars serve as a reminder for the pilot?
  8. The Little Prince says, “Only the children know what they are looking for. They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; And if anybody takes it away from them they cry.” “They are lucky,” the switchman said. What do children teach us about connecting to people and things? What are they looking for that the adults lose sight of? What distracts the grownups from looking out the window as the train/life goes by? How do we get that knowledge and skill back?

Favorite Quotes

“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — tame?” “It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”  “To establish ties?”“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”

 

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

 

“When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.” 

 

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…” “They don’t find it,” I answered. “And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…” Of course,” I answered. And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

 

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”

 

“I do not much like to take the tone of a moralist. But the danger of the baobabs is so little understood, and such considerable risks would be run by anyone who might get lost on an asteroid, that for once I am breaking through my reserve. “Children,” I say plainly, “watch out for the baobabs!”

 

On our earth we are obviously much too small to clean out our volcanoes. That is why they bring no end of trouble upon us.”

 

I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” 

 

I myself own a flower…which I water everyday. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week…It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars.”

 

“Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”

 

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”

 

“Why are you drinking? demanded the little prince. “So that I may forget,” replied the tippler. “Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who was already sorry for him. “Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head. “Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.“Ashamed of drinking!”

 

That man [the lamplighter] would be scorned by all the others…Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself.”

 

“The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.” 

 

One never know where to find [the men]. The wind blows them away. They have not roots, and that makes their life very difficult.” – said by a flower

 

“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”

Anne of Green Gables

Here is a little about me. If you just want to know about the book, scroll down to the review. I won’t be offended.

Gilbert Blythe

I watched Anne of Green Gables only about a thousand times as a kid. Gilbert Blythe was my first crush, my first Mr. Darcy. So how I got to 31 years old without having read the book I don’t know. You would think that I would have devoured it immediately after my sister-in-law gave me a copy, but I didn’t. To be fair we were getting ready to move (again) at the time so it went into a box pretty much right away. I may also have been hesitant because I thought it would be one of those old time classics that take a lot of focus to really get into. And let’s be honest – ever since child #3 was born the times in my life when I have enough time and quiet to focus like that is limited.  It has been many years since I attempted even a Jane Austen for that reason.

I didn’t get around to unpacking some of the boxes of books until after we moved again about a year later. I now had newborn baby #4 and I did lots of sitting and feeding during my day. It was a perfect, green, summer day and children #1-3 were outside so it was quiet. I suddenly wanted to read, but not just anything. I wanted a book as beautiful as the mountain view out my front window, and as fulfilling and precious as my newborn. I went to the bookshelf and Anne of Green Gables was there. I picked it up and started reading. It was love at first sight..or page. The timing was perfect; the summer sun and my beautiful views meshed perfectly with the flowers and trees of Green Gables.  It was exactly the style of book I was in the mood for at that time and it was beautiful. There was no complex language, requiring lots of focus. Instead it was a refreshing walk in park, or more appropriately a walk down “The White Way of Delight” (chapter 2). I felt like I was changed/improved as my perspective on home and family, and education and self-confidence was widened and deepened by Anne Shirley.

So that’s my story which I share because what we bring of ourselves to an interaction with a book will color what we take away from it as well. Now on to the book’s story. My Goodreads review is below. If you like it be sure to check out my other reviews.

My favorite quotes, and book club questions still to come. Any topics or aspects from the book you want to discuss? Let’s do it in the comments. Leave suggestions and book recommendations for me there as well.

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Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do I find words to do justice to the beauty, wit, and heart that is this book? This story came to life for me. I was magically transported to Prince Edward Island. L.M. Montgomery helped me see it, smell it, and love it. I found home in Green Gables right along with Anne. There was such a positive force in reading the book that when I came back to reality I was more happy with my life and surroundings, rather than disappointed to have to leave such beauty in the pages. The light and warmth I felt from my time in Avonlea spilled out of the book and into all aspects of my life. I can think of no better effect for a work of art to have.

But I didn’t just fall in love with a place; the people felt real too. I remember discussing in high school English what a pro Jane Austen was at characterization, but in the first few pages of Anne of Green Gables I met Rachel Lynde and she could not have been more expertly introduced. And It’s not just what the author writes about the characters that tells you about them, but also how she writes. Rachel Lynde knows everything about everyone; nothing gets past her, so we meet her right up front, first thing. Then there’s Marilla who we get to see and understand just a little at a time. She is not easy to read, doesn’t warm up to people quickly, and so we are let into her thoughts and motivations gradually. Anne is a stream of personality and so we see her in bursts with lots of emotion. While Matthew is simple, quiet, but thoughtful and steady so getting to know him doesn’t take long and it’s not flashy, but you can’t help but feel attached right away.

It’s an engaging and uplifting story, written with true skill and art. Rightfully a classic. It surpasses for me many of the other celebrated literary greats; maybe because it is so relatable. I see aspects of myself in the characters, and the decisions and events they experience are the same I see in my life, with maybe some slight variation due to a different time and place. And the best part is how it prompts greater gratitude for the simple but real things in life. It gives me Joy.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I LOVE this book.

Reader Age recommendation: 10 and older, likely most enjoyed by girls.  Despite the age of the book the writing style is easy to read. I have friends who say they have read this book to their kids as young as 7 and 8.

Appropriateness: I found nothing offensive in the book. Totally appropriate for all ages and settings. Would be perfect for book club, English class, or family read aloud. Lots to discuss about choices and consequences, forgiveness, gratitude, and learning from mistakes.

Book Recommendation: If you liked this one as much as I did I recommend you try “Everything on a Waffle” by Polly Horvath, “The Little Princess” and “The Secret Garden” both by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine, and “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt.

And if you want more food for thought, I really liked Shannon’s Review on Goodreads.