My take on Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
I spent many summers of my youth reading the great classics. I loved the Bronte sister’s, Charlotte’s, Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. A special favorite of every mystery writer is Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier. I haven’t read it since I was sixteen, but I speak of it often. On the heels of reading Hannah’s best selling novel, I decided to revisit Du Maurier’s great classic to see what I thought about it now. My first discovery was that it’s not riveting from the start. Tedious descriptions of the heroine’s dull, gossiping employer and passages describing the dry emotions of Mr. de Winter’s moody company made me wonder how I had ever gotten past the first four chapters. I think the first real interesting thing Du Maurier writes is how the heroine wants to invent a machine that bottles up memories to relive another day. The philosophical babbling of the heroine shows the reader’s youth and how much she’s in love with Mr. de Winter.
When I was a young teen in the eighties, books like Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower (1972) were the most coveted in romance. In 1987, I’m surprised my hormone ridden, teenage mind could stand the tedium in which the novel, Rebecca, unfolded. But, Rebecca, is not just a romance. It’s the first of the romantic-suspense genre. In fact, the romance is actually tied up neatly in the first quarter of the book and the rest is left to the wondering’s of Mrs. de Winter’s insecure mind. Overshadowed by the memory of the first wife, she is eclipsed in a grand mansion that should be her own.
Reading a classic novel today is like watching an old black and white film. You either love it or you hate it. I love old black and white films for their innocence and sometimes introspective way of storytelling. My husband pointed out, that people didn’t travel as much back then, and that the reader needed more description to envision the story. I think it says more about our society changing and the attention span shrinking. We don’t have time to sit down to overly long descriptive passages, yet we want to be entertained with something more than constant action. Books are not movies. When we read or listen to them in our quiet moments we need something to grab our attention yet let our minds unwind.
In Sins of the Sister we grip the reader from the very beginning by stashing our Heroine in the trunk of the car. She has to go to the office and do some investigative work eventually, so there are some ordinary moments. I think the reader needs a combination of highs and lows to balance out their adrenaline levels and peak their interests to keep turning pages. If I described the azaleas along the fence for four pages, while Lana jumped over it to chase a perpetrator in Sins of the Sister, no one would ever bother to read it.
At the end of the day, decade or era, a great story is timeless but writing styles are not. Strunk and White put out a writing guide called The Elements of Style(1920). Curiously enough it was published before Rebecca, but was revised many years after and in 2011 named most influential to the English language by Time magazine. Its was quickly adopted by university professors and editors abound and so a new trend of cutting out all of those extra words began.
It amazes me that best selling author’s like Sarah Waters and Kristin Hannah can be so successful in today’s fast paced world. I ask myself what is their secret of success. Could it be that readers crave a more descriptive literary experience? Has the slew of novels with their quick-to-the-point rhythm gone out of style? I think the answer is to keep an intriguing plot with multiple characters to move the story forward with more than the average amount of adjectives, without droning on. The author should make passages have meaning and toss out frivolous scenes labeled as character building that have no importance in the story. In short, create a story that people will feel they can live in for the moment with such detail that they will revisit it in the future.