Monday, 24 August 2009


It only feels right to give mark and note in crediting the book that most possibly turned me into the book worm I am today, one which remains one of my top favourite reads.

In 2003 the BBC launched its Big Read - a nation wide celebration of the UK's all time favourite book. While The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien was rated number 1, the Gothic and somewhat romantic novel Rebecca originally published in 1938 by the English author Daphne du Maurier, was ranked 14th.

My Penguin edition (see left), its bright orange spine projected it clearly from the shelf of the bookcase, its back is even held together with sticky tape, the smell of aged and brown turning pages escapes. The haunting pink face, while half cast in shadow, its mouth and lips are down turned, its eyes covered and drawn over by the bare branched tree creeping over the front cover of this 1962 edition. Its been in my parents bookcase as far as I can ever remember that things called books existed. Yet it took its TV ranking to draw me into actually picking Rebecca out from the shelf and reading it.

The haunting tones of the books is not only limited to the cover, the first line is the most marked and hooking opening sentence I've never come across - "Last night I dreamt I went to Mauderley again". Through the unnamed female protagonist's narrative, we come to learn of her life and transition from companion to becoming the second wife of the troubled and tortured Maxim de Winter, a man haunted by the lingering painful memory of Rebecca - his first wife who died under mysterious circumstances. Troubled at every turn the second Mrs de Winter is reminded of her inadequacy of failing to rise to the experiences, understanding and standard set by her predecessor, most of all by the upturned housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.

While it is not my place to suggest or even hint at the story or the outcome of the plot it is one, most especially an ending which remains haunting in my mind.

Regarded as Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece, and in turn like many of her novels was projected onto the big screen by the hand of Alfred Hitchcock, prior to which Rebecca became a theatrical success opening in London Queen's Theatre in 1940 staring Celia Johnson (Brief Encounters). An amazing director in his own right Hitchcock worked and directed two of du Maurier's stories - Rebecca and The Birds (taken from a collection of short stories). Winning an Academy Award in 1940, Hitchcock's adaptation starred the domineering and dark Laurence Oliver as Maxim alongside Joan Fontaine as his second wife. Its a film I personally adore most particularly through its darkness, the dramatic mystery and intrigue bringing the book to life.

Not only has the novel impacted upon my own life, pulling me deeper into the darkest depths of being addicted to reading, but its imprint has been felt worldwide. Even being credited as a potential German code book during World War II. Yet after a raid upon the German HQ in Cairo the book and the code remained unused.

This book remains six years on in my collection, alongside many other Daphne du Maurier books, most often collected from second hand book shops with their 1960s/1970s covers. Their colours and their fonts still calling, beckoning me to read them just as Rebecca did.

The rest of the 100 most popular books from the 2003 Big Read can be found here.

Selected du Maurier booklist; I'll Never be Young Again (1932), Jamica Inn (1936), Rebecca (1938), Frenchman's Creek (1941), Hungry Hill (1943), The Kings General (1946), My Cousin Rachel (1951), Mary Anne (1954), The Scapegoat (1947), The Birds and Other Stories (1963), The House on the Strand (1969)


  1. Love Rebecca among others of du Mauriers books. Interesting post too. I love reading secondhand books, most of my books are secondhand. I love the old dustjackets and just the feel and smell of older books. funny

  2. One of my favourite books of all time :), like you I found it on my parents shelf, except mine is a blue hardcover...minus part of the cover now.

    The reason I picked it to read, It shares my name :). Nice post x

  3. I have to agree Dustjacket - I have a copy of Doctor Zhiago and it is literally falling to pieces, most of the pages have fallen out in huge clumps but I've got all attached to it and currently refusing to through it out!

  4. ahhh, old books...the smell...the feel...the look...what fingers have handled it and what eyes have looked upon it before you...second hand book shops are as close as I get to going to church.