This is absolutely one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I guess it just goes to show that a classic can beat out the new fad novel any day. (Ahem, Dan Brown!)
Rebecca is about a young woman who marries a widower whose late wife’s memory lingers a little too closely…
The neighbours, family, and even the servants all seem to prefer the vibrant and capable Rebecca, who died tragically in a boating accident a year before. The housekeeper Mrs. Danvers adored her and treats the new mistress as incompetent. The new wife, who remains unnamed throughout the whole novel, struggles to maintain the household and to save her marriage as she can’t seem to get rid of Rebecca.
Du Maurier’s writing style is impeccable! It’s lyrical and haunting and vivid all at the same time. And the descriptions of the Manderley estate remind me of Austen, while the unsettling Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers remind me of Poe or some other Gothic/horror writer. The main character is also so imaginative and descriptive that you can’t help but like her, or at least sympathize with her. She might seem naïve or immature but I think she represents all the feelings of incompetence and insecurity that we feel – especially in relationships and new situations. I might have had pretty bad timing in coming across this book because I’m planning my own wedding and marrying into a family that is somewhat more… well-off than mine. But I’m lucky we’re not inheriting a sprawling estate in the English country, nor do we have an evil Mrs. Danvers making me feel inferior!
I was so impressed and my mind still wanders back to that book even though I’ve finished it and begun another. I definitely want to read it again!
Neverwhere by possibly my favourite contemporary writer, Neil Gaiman, is about a reg’lar chap who lives a reg’lar life in London, complete with a normal job and a normal (if slightly, ok excessively, overbearing) fiancée. Then an injured girl on the street quite literally opens doors for him. All at once he finds himself in the London Below which is an entirely different and separate world from what he knows.
I really think that Gaiman probably has my favourite voice (and I don’t just mean when he speaks out loud, although in all fairness the man has won audio book awards) of all time. The main character, Richard Mayhew, is at first convincingly BORING to the point that you almost (but not quite) empathize with his domineering fiancée. And he continues to be quite unremarkable when facing a girl who can open all doors and create openings where there were none, and a hunter woman who is absolutely lethal. But he quietly and almost reluctantly wins battles on his own and starts to become the hero that he never knew he was.
This sort of character development really reminded me of Glory Road by Robert Heinlein, which I read recently. I’m quite sure I liked Neverwhere better, if only because I felt it had better characters; that is, more developed and just more interesting in general. Definitely exciting – I read it in just a few hours because I couldn’t put it down!
Being the books-turned-into-movies fanatic that I am, I had to read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. In case you haven’t seen the movie, it takes place in the last stages of World War II and is about a Canadian nurse staying in a deserted village in Italy caring for a critically burned mystery man. He is known only as “the English patient”. Along comes Caravaggio, an old family friend of Hana’s, who is revealed to be a thief turned spy. Then Kip enters the scene, and he is a Sikh sapper who feels unwelcome everywhere because of his race. The only Englishman whom he ever felt any connection to was killed while dismantling a German bomb.
What I found most interesting about the characters in this novel was how they all seemed to have lost their identities – not just the English patient. I suppose I can relate most to Kip though, because his identity loss stems from having left his home country and coming to the West, where he is constantly underestimated and unwelcome.
At the same time it seems as if the English patient is the only one who is surest of his own identity even if it’s lost. Perhaps because he willingly shed his identity and nationality? Anyway I can’t imagine not feeling tied to a country; especially in a case of wartime in which nationalities and solidarity of nations were at their utmost importance! I’m not sure how I feel about his actions but I also don’t feel that he was necessarily guilty of anything but adultery.