Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is a great book. It's sometimes treated rather dismissively as a "woman's book" that just happens to have a clever twist in it. But I think it's a lot better than that. Hitchcock evidently was of the same opinion as it was the first film that he made on relocating to America, and his only film to win Best Picture at the Oscars (although Hitchcock was never awarded the coveted Best Director prize). Rebecca is rather more than "just" a crime or woman's story - it is deliciously subversive.

The title alone indicates this. It would be logical to think that Rebecca is probably the name of the heroine of the story, who happens to be the narrator, a young girl who has fallen deeply in love with a wealthy much older man; but Rebecca is actually the name of his first, deceased, wife, who appears to be everything that the young gauche girl is not - sophisticated, witty, flirtatious, an excellent hostess and conversationalist. As the novel progresses however we discover that what we think we know about Rebecca may not necessarily be the whole truth.

Throughout the novel Du Maurier cleverly manipulates the reader in a very Hitchcockian way. Hitchcock liked to play with morality - we want Richard Hannay (a man on a murder charge) to escape in The 39 steps, and we need the bomb to explode in Sabotage, and Du Maurier expertly does the same thing in Rebecca. The reader will happily connive with the un-named girl's attempts to bamboozle the hideous Mrs. Van Hopper in order to spend the day with the love of her life. Innocent, eh? Yes, but by the end of the novel we will want a murderer to get away with murder.

As Hitchcock said "'Once a man commits himself to murder, he will soon find himself stealing. The next step will be alcoholism, disrespect for the Sabbath and from there on it will lead to rude behaviour." Of course Hitchcock was joking, and we would assume that in fact the opposite is true, and it is here that Du Maurier plays with the reader - the small innocent slips from truth that happen to the heroine along the way, will also happen to the reader, who becomes accepting of one slip, and then gradually becomes open to ever bigger steps from the path of morality.

I'm not arguing here whether the murder is right or wrong - I am as implicated in the plot as any other reader, and as confused by the morality of it. And it's probably because of that, that I think Rebecca is such a great book. My head says that X should have happened, my heart would always want it to be Y.


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