The Big Read of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier finished up at bookshelves of doom last week. A good time was had by all.
I had read Rebecca twice before, once as a teenager. I had two questions in mind with this third read:
1. Is Rebecca a "retelling" of Jane Eyre?
2. Would this book still be of interest to teenagers?
Well, I don't want to go so far as to say that Rebecca is a retelling of Jane Eyre, but the parallels are striking and fascinating. Poor, young orphaned woman who has been kicked around by a female relative/employer becomes involved with an older, wealthy man who is psychologically scarred as the result of having been tricked into a marriage with a "bad wife." Older, wealthy man has a big, I mean, BIG, secret and a big fancy house. Secret revealed, house burns down. There's more. I'm just hitting the high points.
The contrasts are just as interesting. Maxim de Winter and his second wife have very little chemistry, while Mr. Rochester and Jane come close to burning up the page whenever they appear together. All of us at the Big Read agreed that Jane could whip Mrs. deWinter 2's sorry butt. She could probably stand up to Rebecca, too.
None of this means that Rebecca is a bad book or not as good as Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is a very good book about two powerful, flawed people who find each other. Rebecca is a very good book about two weak, bland people who find each other.
Will teenagers like Rebecca? A number of us at the Big Read had read it as teenagers. Most of us recall liking it. In my case, I know it was because of the suspense angle. I think genre books such as suspense or mystery can appeal to a wider range of ages because whatever makes the books suspenseful or mysterious is the big hook, not the characters or the theme. In Rebecca's case, there is a character who is very young and suffers from the kind of insecurity many adolescents can relate to. On the other hand, in addition to the suspense hook, Rebecca has some very strong themes relating to sexual jealousy and the shifts of power in a relationship. Those aren't the themes we traditonally think of as YA. Without the suspense, I don't know if Rebecca could hold a lot of young readers.
Today I bought two copies of Rebecca to give as gifts to family members, neither of whom is a teenager.