Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The final book in our gothic story review is the classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. One of the best selling novels of all time it is held as an epitome of the modern gothic story telling genre. High schools across the country have it as one of their Summer Reading titles.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

So begins the tale related to us by the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter. Married to a man she hardly knows she is swept back to his family home off the windswept Cornish coast. All parts of the home are open to the new bride save for the west wing and when she explores these rooms she finds out why. They contain the rooms of the first Mrs. de Winter, the stunning Rebecca who is dead but not forgotten. Her rooms never touched since her death, all maintained by her servant the mysterious Mrs. Danvers. With a strong feeling of dread, the young woman begins to wonder and searches for the real fate of Rebecca and the secrets contained in Manderley.

Rebecca is a well written novel and I can see why it is loved by so many. I can also see why it’s required reading for many schools as it’s prolific use of prose to convey scenes and emotion are truly second to none. Long descriptive paragraphs transport the reader to the rocky shores of Manderley. Well thought out words and phrases convey a sense of dread in some scenes with a sense of elation in others.

With that being said, for every thing that I enjoyed about this book, there was something that irritated me. First of all, our protagonist is never given a proper name. Throughout the book she’s either referred to as ‘dear’, ‘darling, ‘Mrs. de Winter’, etc. This isn’t a big thing as the book is told from her point of view, but for me I found it a bit aggravating. For my own sake, in my head I called her ‘Elizabeth’. Secondly, I found Maxim de Winter to be very much of an asshole. A true product of his time (1938), at times he coddles his wife treating her like an infant and other times he is cold and almost unfeeling.

Their relationship isn’t much better, in my opinion. Mrs. de Winter’s happiness throughout the book hinges on others – her employer Mrs. Van Hopper in the beginning then later Maxim de Winter and even Mrs. Danvers. When any of them become angry or upset she blames herself thinking it is something she must have done or said. She plays the part of martyr. Even later on in the book when the truth about Rebecca is revealed and our narrator is said to be ‘reborn’, I still found her very wishy-washy.

Now bear in mind, dear Reader, I am a modern woman looking back at a woman in a book that is over 80 years old. Women and men of that time were very different, which is something I know this book reflects. So take my thoughts for a grain (or a whole pile) of salt.

Despite my disagreements with the characters, on the whole, Rebecca is a good book. It evokes the gothic senses with its dark brooding homes and equally dark and brooding characters. The mystery of what truly happened remains until the final pages, keeping the reader guessing to the truth up to the end.

Did I enjoy reading Rebecca? Yes, I did. Would I read it again? Probably not.

The Asylum by John Harwood

We continue on this week, dear readers, with another gothic novel. We travel to Tregannon House and it’s many visitors in The Asylum.

Georgina Ferrars has woken up in a small room, clearly confused and with no memory of how she got there. Nor, it seems, does she remember the preceding few weeks. When she meets Doctor Straker, he says her name is Lucy Ashton as that is the name she checked in with several days ago before suffering some kind of seizure. She insists he must have her confused with someone else and at her insistence the doctor sends a telegram to her uncle. The reply however is not what Georgina had hoped to hear. The uncle says Georgina is there with him in London and the person claiming to be her must be an impostor.

Soon, Georgina finds herself going from voluntary patient to involuntary patient. With time running out, Georgina must try and piece together what happened to bring her to Tregannon House in the first place. And to find out just who is the woman with her face?

John Harwood is no stranger to the victorian gothic tale. He has two previous novels in the same style with The Asylum being his third. He definitely has a strong grasp of the subject matter as this book is a dark and delicious romp. Georgina is an interesting character in that at the start of the novel she seems almost the stereotypical gothic heroine. Yet as the book goes on, one begins to wonder just how much of what Georgina insists is true. Her mother’s old letters hint at something that happened in the past, something that could have an impact on the young woman’s future.

I will not give too many details as to do so would spoil the plot. Moody and mysterious right up to the end, The Asylum is an excellent addition to the gothic genre.

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

Continuing in our theme of gothic novels, this week’s post is dedicated to a new and up and coming author.

A lovely governess; a handsome widower and his two sons; a fog shrouded forest, and a ghastly mysterious murder. So sets the stage for Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling, the first novel by Michael Boccacino.

Charlotte Markham is the governess to the young Darrow boys. When their nanny is found murdered in a most gruesome fashion, it is Charlotte who steps in to take care of the boys. It is when during one of their daily walks that they encounter a fog draped forest and beyond a dark house that wasn’t there before does she realize that not all is as it seems. For waiting in that dark house is the boys’ supposedly dead mother and a strange man in black.

Charlotte Markham is an excellent first novel. While it touts itself as a ‘Victorian Gothic’ tale, in truth the mish mash of manners, character actions and reactions and style of speech, make it a bit harder to pin down. It is definitely a dark and gothic tale, reminding me of works by Neil Gaiman. So much so that there were a few times where I almost expected one of the Endless from Gaiman’s popular Sandman series to pop up. I’ll let you, dear reader, decide who I was expecting to see should you read this book.

From what I have seen, Charlotte Markham has received decent reviews. My own voice will have to be included because I truly liked it. The style was very smooth and at times quite creepy especially when it came to the goings on in the House of Darkling. I found the end a tad rushed but the fact that it was left open ended make up for that. For some characters their fate was spelled out but for others we are left with a question mark.

Should  Boccaciono write more – and I hope he does – it is my sincere wish he return to this land that he has created in Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling. It is a rich world ripe for a wide variety of stories.