Book Review – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who meets a handsome, older gentleman, Maxim de Winter, in Monte Carlo. It is the gossip of the moment that Maxim’s wife Rebecca, has recently drowned at sea. After a whirlwind romance, the couple are married with our protagonist becoming the new Mrs de Winter. On arriving home to Maxim’s West Country estate, ‘Manderley’, after their honeymoon, Mrs de Winter faces a painful struggle against Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca, whose presence at Manderley remains overbearing even from beyond the grave. Maxim’s new wife is constantly compared to Rebecca, who was loved and admired by all. She faces particular cruelty from the malevolent Mrs Danvers, Rebecca’s maid and housekeeper. As the lady of the house, the new Mrs de Winter struggles to adjust to a more privileged way of life and to find her own identity. However, as the story unfolds it becomes clear that Rebecca was not as wonderful as people believed her to be, and her death is not the tragic accident that perhaps it had seemed.

Rebecca is a tour de force of a novel, which gathers pace and speed as it hurtles to its denouement. It grows in strength, becoming more gripping as it develops, as the tensions build between the main characters. There is a sense of foreboding in the dramatic setting of Manderley. Rebecca is a first person narrative, that of the newly married Mrs de Winter, and begins after the climax of the book – so the reader knows what the score is from the outset. It then cycles back to explore the manner of the meeting of Mr and Mrs de Winter, by chance when she was a companion to an elderly American, Mrs Van Hopper, and how they end up drifting around Europe as man and wife. In fact, when I finished the novel, I re-read the opening pages, because I felt I’d missed something in the first reading. I closed the book as Mrs de Winter ended her reflection on the exodus in Europe, before she begins the story as the lowly companion to Mrs Van Hopper.

Essentially, Rebecca is a book about jealousy and relationships, and the sheer cleverness of it has struck me more and more. The main protagonist, the new Mrs de Winter, is never named in her own right. She is always an appendage to someone else – initially Mrs Van Hopper, and then Maxim de Winter. This is a powerful observation, when even the book title is Rebecca, the name that haunts the young woman throughout, being Maxim’s first, now deceased, wife. Rebecca called him Max, the new wife is instructed to call him Maxim. Our heroine starts as a shy, young thing, acquiescing to everyone around her – to her charge, to Maxim, to the staff at Manderley. It seems she is only comfortable around Maxim’s Agent, Crawley, a man more of her equal.

Mrs de Winter’s living antagonist is the sinister Mrs Danvers, or Danny as she was fondly referred to by Rebecca. She had been her maid since a girl, and had taken on the role of housekeeper at Manderley. Du Maurier’s characterisation of her is brilliant – a shadow in black with the face like a skeleton, who pops up in places where Mrs de Winter least expects. Just as her husband will never be Max, Mrs Danvers will never be Danny. The running narrative that the obsessive young Mrs de Winter runs through her mind is expertly crafted by du Maurier. She tortures herself in imagined conversations and scenarios, just like the soppy young thing that she is. I found this mildly irritating at first, frustrated by the naivety of the girl with a big crush – and a bigger jealousy. This almost possessive jealousy, fanned and stoked by Mrs Danvers is the crux of the novel. This tension between the wives. It is symbolised even in the rooms they occupy in Manderley. The passionate Rebecca had her rooms in the west wing, with the sound of the sea, and the new Mrs de Winter, the east, overlooking the rose garden. It is only later in the book that it is revealed quite why Maxim de Winter loathes the sound of the sea.

It is gothic literature at its finest. To think that I nearly didn’t read it because I perceived it as a romantic nonsense that my grandmother had on her bookshelves. I thought it would be dated, but the human conditions pervade all the advances that mankind has made in the decades since it was published. Du Maurier is skilled in her craft as a writer, but for me, she does not match the acute eye as an observer of people as one of her contemporaries, Elizabeth Jane Howard. That said, it is a magnificent book.

Hollywood Stardust Comes to Town…

Liza Pulman The Songs of Hollywood Tour
Saturday 23rd April, Hall for Cornwall, Truro

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Let’s get straight to the point, Liza’s stage show does more than it bills. Sure, she sings The Songs of Hollywood, but she also gives us, the audience, so much more. Liza’s show is a whole evening of rich, glittery and at times, comic entertainment. By Liza’s own admission, she is your secret weapon in a pub quiz when it comes to the movies, and she shares that knowledge between songs. Liza’s passion for Hollywood, for her musical heroes, for the stories the songs amplify is shared with her audience. Liza is a generous performer, giving a great deal of herself throughout the show. Liza comes across as tender, charming, feisty, and funny all in one exquisitely dressed bundle. Her frocks are beautiful, and against a back drop of the ‘ensemble’ in dinner dress, this helps bring the feel of Hollywood glamour to the stage.

Liza’s voice is beautiful, with an astonishing range. The arrangements that Joseph Atkins and the Starlight Ensemble have put together are stunning. Some are more traditionally played, but others, like Moon River, take on a whole new lease of life. It is hard to pick a favourite, when all are delivered with such passion, but Liza’s covers as Marilyn Monroe would be my personal choice. Several of the audience were moved to tears during some songs as Liza’s renditions were so evocative – the songs of the movies are also the soundtracks of our lives..

This is a show, a tour, that spreads magic as it goes. Somehow you expect the songs of Hollywood to be mostly dramatic ballads, and there are some of those, but Liza’s comic, often flirty delivery, sets a different tone. It is an engaging show, that will make you both want to put on your finest frock and your dancing shoes and be a little bit like ‘Fred & Ginger’, and also rush home to stream some of the greatest of the Hollywood films. Liza Pulman’s show is a feel-good one, where your heart beats a little faster, your smile grows a little wider, and you feel positively uplifted as you head home.

All that glisters is sometimes gold...
All that glisters is sometimes gold…

Images shamelessly copied from Liza’s website, as I was too much in raptures to take pictures. See Liza Pulman

Book Review: The Old Ways, by Robert MacFarlane

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“Following the tracks, holloways, drove-road and sea paths that form part of a vast ancient network of routes crisis-crossing the British Isles and beyond, Robert MacFarlane discovers a lost world – a landscape of the feet and the mind, of pilgrimage and ritual, of stories and ghosts; above all of the places and journeys which inspire and inhabit our imagination.”

Here I am reading another book on walking, handed to me by a friend, when I’m in full recuperation mode. I think MacFarlane would welcome my questioning as to whether this is at odds with recuperation, or perhaps inspiration for better days ahead.

Unlike Simon Armitage’s Walking Away, in The Old Ways, I found MacFarlane a welcome companion. He is generous with his observation, reflections and connections (cross-referencing to stories, legends, authors, poets). This makes for a rich read, and one that I was not expecting. I absolutely lost myself in his prose.

I didn’t know anything about Robert MacFarlane; never heard of this book (or the two that preceded it in the apparent trilogy). As an aside this begs another question – where are you keeping yourself current on haloed books? Is MacFarlane a Geographer like me? No! He is an English Academic. That explains the writing. It is luscious, heavy in metaphor, careful, lyrical and, at times, poetic in feel. I loved it, although others might find it tending towards ‘purple prose’ (although I’d argue when the ‘plot’ of the narrative is the journey, then he can be as lyrical as he damn well likes).

Along with the writing, I loved the structure. Tracking; Following; Roaming, and Homing. Within each section, chapters around different themes (elements, almost) – such as chalk, silt, water, gneiss, ice… I cannot even begin to describe how much this satisfies me.

It is not the kind of book to tear through, although it was also not a book for my bedtime. Sentences and whole paragraphs that invite thought, not dreams:

“I had set out to come to know Thomas by walking where he had walked, but he had mostly eluded me… And yet I had learned so much from the people I’d met along my journeys… This… Had been the real discovery: not a ghostly retrieval of Thomas but an understanding of how for him, as for so many other people, the mind was a landscape of a kind and walking a means of crossing it.”

It is exactly the kind of book that you put down and pause. Rest your stick, look at the landscape. Wonder. And then pick up again and continue the journey.

My favourite chapters were Silt, when MacFarlane traverses a pathway exposed only at low tide, carrying with it a degree of risk, and of Granite, where he walks across the mountains to attend his grandfather’s funeral. This was MacFarlane writing from himself, and not ‘following’ the poet Edward Thomas, who inspired the book. If Thomas inspired MacFarlane, then he inspires me to walk some long paths. The Old Ways is a keeper, and in order to do that, I shall have to buy it. It is that good. It is also shaping up to be the non-fiction book that I wish I had written… And that gives fuel for thought in itself. MacFarlane, what have you started?

 

Five weeks on post-surgery

Falmouth from Flushing...
Falmouth from Flushing Bowling Green in the week; eating up the steps…

At some point things change. I’m trying to pinpoint it, but the moment evades me. I feel like I’m emerging, growing in strength and purpose. I realise that I’ve forgotten to take pain killers. That’s a good sign, from dividing the day up into the mental drugs trolley. I ditched the Tramadol a couple of weeks ago. Naproxem and its bed-fellow Omeprazole cast off yesterday, leaving an on-off relationship with paracetamol. I don’t wake up every time I move in bed, I don’t wake with the feeling of the tightly bound corset. If I sit too long at the dining room table, and steep hills, those are the reminders now. No longer the feeling of being kicked in the ribs by a horse, more like a large dog. I sneezed for the first time yesterday, and it didn’t rip apart my lung, as I feared. Hurt a bit though. The worst is still yawning. You can halt a sneeze, so I’ve learned, but stopping a yawn is impossible. That burns at the bottom of the lung. Must-do-better-on-deep-breathing.

This week I also hit 10,000 steps for the first time since wearing the MisfitShine again. It was good to see it twinkling at me. Some of it was even classed as ‘vigorous’. I slept well that night.

Perhaps that was the change. Properly tired. Properly sleeping. More oxygen passing through my body because of the activity, making the lung work, making me rest better. A kind of natural painkiller. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I am also drinking more water. I read somewhere that your lungs have a high water component. Makes sense to refresh those cells as much as possible.

It is like those early spring days, when you realise that you’ve walked out without a coat. The sun feels warm, and you know that the dark days of winter are at last behind you.