‘Somehow I had never expected to hear the name again, it sounded odd, like a word in another language. Rebecca. A word from another life. We never spoke it. I do not think it had crossed either of our lips since that terrible night.’
Years and years ago I first read Daphne du Maurier’s haunting book Rebecca and absolutely loved it. The slow-building, sinister atmosphere was beautifully crafted and genuinely unsettling, and the characters – even Rebecca, who is a character dead before the start of the novel – were incredibly vivid. I even wrote an essay on the book at university, and talked at length about the idea of identity within it, with the large-as-life but never actually seen Rebecca being a far bigger character than the first person narrator, the nameless second Mrs de Winter.
Therefore when I spotted this sequel by Susan Hill at the library I was intrigued enough to pick it up. I have been meaning to read some of Susan Hill’s books for a while, and I loved Rebecca, so why not combine the two and read Susan Hill’s sequel?
The book picks up ten years after the close of Rebecca, with Maxim de Winter and his second wife in exile in Europe. The two have been drifting around the continent for years, never settling, but when circumstances draw them back to England they find a happiness and stability they have never known…until two figures from the past draw them back into the long-dead Rebecca’s web.
It had always intrigued me what had happened after the dramatic close of Rebecca, so I was really interested to read Mrs de Winter, although I was also kind of apprehensive because I’ve never before read a sequel to a book that has been written by another author. I wondered if Susan Hill would manage to evoke that same ‘unsettling for reasons you can’t quite identify’ feeling that makes Rebecca so riveting, and if she could convincingly write in the distinctive, nervous voice of the second Mrs de Winter.
I can now answer that with a resounding ‘yes!” In fact, I oddly kept forgetting that this book wasn’t an ‘official sequel’ (as in, not written or approved by Daphne du Maurier), as the tone and characterisations were so close to the original, that you really wouldn’t have known someone else had written it if you hadn’t seen Susan Hill’s name on the cover.
Much like Rebecca, it’s quite a slow starting book, with not much really happening for quite some time. It flicks back and forth between the present (with Maxim and Mrs de Winter attending the funeral of Maxim’s sister Beatrice), the past, and their years in exile. I felt this flicking around was very skilfully done because it didn’t feel disjointed or anything, but after a while with not much actually happening it did become a little boring. The prose was absolutely beautiful and the descriptions were amazingly atmospheric (which was good considering how essential a sense of places seemed to be to this novel, much like Manderley was in Rebecca), but I did start to long for some action.
And that’s when the first odd event happens that throws the heroine’s peaceful life into turmoil. As in Rebecca, the trouble starts with this one small event, and then the tension gradually builds, coming to a truly shocking crescendo at the end of the book. Whilst my initial concern was that this book would be consistently slow all of the way through, this proved not to be the case, and I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book in the same edge-of-my-seat way that I enjoyed Rebecca all those years ago.
All in all, I really cannot recommend this book enough if you have read and loved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (and if you haven’t read that book, I cannot recommend that book enough to you!). However, I do feel like you would need to have read that book to enjoy this one, as without knowledge of the dramatic events of the original book, you would possibly get bored of the characters and slow-building plot before it gets to where things start happening. I thought this was a wonderful book, and I would definitely like to read some more Susan Hill novels after this!