I had such incredibly high hopes for this book, which I suppose was a bad idea since it set me up perfectly to be so disappointed. The first chapter is an exemplary education in the meaning of the word atmospheric and sets the stage for a story much bigger than this ended up being. But, because the writing itself is so skillfully done it's important to separate that from the plot, so let's do that.
The quality of the writing rivals some of the
best authors I've ever read. Du Maurier is so adept at the nuances of
stage-setting that it's possible for the reader themselves to start
having dreams about Manderley. From the descriptions of the house to
the servants to the ever tangible ghost of the title character it's
impossible not to get chills sometimes when reading these sentences. If
you wanted to learn how to build a setting using poetic prose you could
do a heck of a lot worse. It almost has a "Fall of the House of Usher"
feel to it in how large the house itself looms.
But perhaps that's
part of the downfall of the story- the house eclipses the characters
themselves. I believe, for example, that one is supposed to like or at
least root for Maxim. I hated him. HATED him. I couldn't find one
redeeming characteristic the whole damned book. And the narrator
herself is so wimpy and wilting that's it's easy to not really care what
happens to her- and you can't have genuine fear if you don't care what
happens to the characters.
I tried to remind myself that it's a
different time period- women didn't have a whole heck of a lot of
options back then. But I often found myself thinking that she would
have been much better off if she had stuck with Mrs. Van Hopper- who,
coincidentally, was way more entertaining than either of the main
It didn't help that once the narrator went to Manderley
nothing happened for the first 200 pages that she was there. I get
that thrillers are supposed to have a slow build but this is ridiculous.
And when things finally do start to happen the reading goes much
quicker- but it's not a rewarding end.
At the finish I find myself
glad to have read this book for the writing far more than for the story.
I've heard that the movie is actually superior simply the genre allows
for the slow build without the drag you feel in reading and that the
charters are larger due to being well-acted. I haven't seen the movie
but I'm planning to, and given everything I've heard about it I wouldn't
be surprised if it's one of a very small number of cases where the film
outranks the book.