I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling andM.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier.
As I often end up saying in these reviews, this one isn't horror. It says right on the cover what it is: romantic suspense.
Still, it was a good book, and an excellent study in creating atmosphere. I actually used excerpts from the beginning of the book in one of my workshops to illustrate how word choice can create atmosphere.
This book is about a young woman who is courted by a wealthy older man. She ends up marrying him, and is whisked off to Manderlay, a coastal mansion she's seen on a postcard, because it's widely known. Her new husband is obviously keeping a secret, but she figures maybe this is just the way he is. And she's far too busy trying to fit into high society, when it's very much not her typical world, to delve too deeply into the mysteries of Manderlay.
This wasn't a fast read for me, but I wasn't horribly bored by it either. It should be noted that this came out in the 30s, so the pace and culture are different. DuMaurier is not only excellent at atmosphere, but she's solid on setting, as well. At the same time, her dialogue left a lot to be desired. I suppose the characters that were actually talkative were meant to be some sort of joke. Like they were the losers instead of the folks who answered every question with two words. I was dying for a real conversation at one point. It seemed like everyone was keeping everything close to the chest.
Despite the lack of strong dialogue, the characters were well developed. I was rather fond of Maxim DeWinter's (the heroine's new husband) sister, and of his assistant. Everyone else was stiff, but they were meant to be. Considering Rebecca is already dead and gone at the beginning of this book, she is also strongly developed and, in fact, has a character arc all her own. At first the heroine (she is never named, a fact that would drive a friend of my crazy--I'm looking at you, J.T.) only hears how amazing Rebecca was, and she is constantly compared to her. But then the dirty secrets come out, and we see a whole different view of the dead woman. Incredibly well done.
While the ending wasn't a surprise by the time I got there, it was still a good book. The pacing began slowly, but built toward the end. The stakes only appeared at the end, as well. But there was such a sense of something coming my way, that I was able to stick it out to see what was going to happen.
If you like romantic suspense, and enjoy the slower pace of a classic piece of literature, I'd recommend this. If you're looking for horror or something you can chew through at a fast pace, it would be best to go with something else.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
8. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
9. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
10. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
11. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
12. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
13. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
14. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
15. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
16. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
17. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
18. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
19. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
20. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
21. World War Z (Max Brooks)
22. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
23. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
24. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
25. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
26. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
27. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
28. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
The next book I'll be reading is Prime Evil, an anthology edited by Douglas E. Winter.
Have you read Rebecca? How about her short story The Birds, on which the film was based? Who do you think is a master of building atmosphere in their writing?
May you find your Muse.