I think any classic novel is going to hard to write the sequel of, and especially one which has become a cult classic so close to the hearts of so many readers like ‘Rebecca’ has. There is the worry of revisiting those tales and those characters and them not being quite the same, a concern made all the greater when the writer of the sequel isn’t the person who wrote the original book. This is the predicament with ‘Mrs De Winter’ where the author, and one I am a big fan of, Susan Hill takes the characters and the story that was left behind from ‘Rebecca’ and tries to take it forward and breath life into it again. I was worried, I had seen several really bad reviews, and some rather good ones, so I admit that I did start the book with trepidation. Oh, before we go any further, if you haven’t read ‘Rebecca’ then maybe come back and see this post when you have, there may be some spoilers ahead.
Vintage, paperback, 1999, fiction, 304 pages, from my personal TBR
‘Mrs De Winter’ finds us once again with our unnamed narrator and her husband Maxim De Winter. They have returned after ten years of living on the continent for a funeral. Who is the funeral of? Well I actually don’t want to tell you that, let’s just say that it brings them back to England a place our narrator misses and Maxim does not. There is then the conflict of should they stay or should they go, before they decide they might stay. Only staying brings the past back to haunt them and ghosts, both supernatural and simply of memories from the past, that they thought had vanished long ago start to return to haunt them. That is really as much as I can say without giving any spoilers. It’s not helpful really is it, sorry. I bet you are all wondering what happened to Mrs Danvers too, I know that was the possible aspect of the story I was most excited about.
Susan Hill has the gothic atmosphere spot on, mind you I would have expected that after reading some of her wonderful ghost stories, its all very dark and the mystery slowly builds up. Her prose is rich and descriptive, if occasionally a little too descriptive. Whilst I loved the painting of the pictures of the English countryside, which our nameless narrator never seems to shut up about in this novel, I didnt need pages and pages about the scents in the air, the many varied different ways to describe the shades of autumn. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t why I had picked up a sequel to ‘Rebecca‘. I wanted ghosts and plot twists, I wanted that page turning element and the threads of dread to start, and after about 80 or so pages they did.
In fact it is when visiting the grave of the recently departed that our narrator (I do wish Daphne had given her a name now so I didnt keep having to type ‘nameless narrator’ over and over again) discoveres a huge, elaborate wreath with that infamous single letter ‘R’ that i did actually get that tingle of dread and the excitement of ‘ooh here we go again’. This is where Hill excels with this novel, there are some wonderful ‘uh-oh’ moments as we go along, its just a shame that rather than panicking and going mad (like I might), our narrator seems to stop in her tracks to have a look around and describe every thing instead. Yet, actually going back to Daphne, as I have been of late, I had forgotten how much the landscape and thesurrounding matter and are mentioned in her work. In that case ‘Mrs De Winter’ fits the bill completely and it is more my impatience as a reader to find out what was going on that was at fault. Maybe.
I do think, and this is one thing I completely disagree with that Susan Hill seems to be most critisised for having read the reviews after finishing the book, that she got the voice of the narrator spot on. She is a bit of a drip, lets be honest, she was in the first book and she continues to be in this one. In ten years she could have matured but she is married to Maxim who is almost insistant that she stays innocent naive and childlike. Plus she does get put through the mental wringer and I think that would make any one become a bit of a victim to be honest.
Sorry that this seems a rambling and rather inconclusive set of thoughts on ‘Mrs De Winter’. You see I do love Susan Hill’s writing, and I do love how she can weave a ghost story. I actually don’t think I could imagine anyone else being a more perfect writer, for me at least, to write the sequel. The only problem is I am not really sure what my thoughts on these sequels are. I think the fact that this is deemed ‘the sequel’ to ‘Rebecca’ is the problem. Change the name of the characters and the mentions of Manderlay and I think I would have loved this a lot more, though I really enjoyed it because it wouldnt have had the hype of the original attached to it.
To summarise (finally, I hear you cry) I really enjoyed ‘Mrs De Winter’, its a haunting and atmospheric tale, I just wish it wasn’t a sequel to such a famous novel and instead had been a story all of its own right. That might not make sense, or been seen as a cop out, but its the truth as I see it.