Daphne Du Maurier‘s epic 1930s Cornwallian mystery Rebecca was excellent – do not care to remember how many years ago I read the original, but the subsequent movie versions and TV dramatisations have made it a classic story that transcends the media forms.
So it was with some initial trepidation that I curled up on my squashy sofa to read the sequel Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman.
Aside from occasional forays into the kitchen in search of snacks and drinks, and my usual attack of the ‘fidgets’ when I’d spent too long in my ‘Do Not Disturb: Serious Reading Going On’ position, I couldn’t put the book down.
This got me thinking of other books that have had that effect on me and only one other novel sprang instantly to mind: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, the story of Antoinette Cosway’s formative years spent in 1830s Jamaica which culminates in a disastrous marriage with a Mr Rochester, a character we all recognise from that literary masterpiece, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
n both cases I needed to know how Rebecca De Winter and Antoinette Cosway came to be the women they were. Both women dominate the original stories, but at best they are shadowy albeit powerful ladies whose husbands desire them out of their lives. Now, I love a good mystery as much as others, but these ladies urgently needed family backgrounds and humanising in a major way!
In Sally Beauman’s book, Rebecca’s personality is analysed and debated by, amongst others, a Colonel Julyan and his daughter Ellie – both of whom knew Rebecca before her death – and Tom Gray, a mysterious stranger on a mission to discover Rebecca’s past. Each character’s perspective of Rebecca (including access to Rebecca’s own thoughts via a recently discovered diary) gives up a complex and compelling portrayal of the woman who had been such an enigma in her life.
Can you think of any other literary character that has been successfully ‘fleshed’ out or needs an instant treatment in that area? My contribution: yet another character from Rebecca – Mrs Danvers.