I first read this book when I was in college and near the age of the narrator. At that time, I very much identified with the narrator’s wish about wanting to be a woman of thirty-six wearing black velvet and pearls. That older woman represented life experience, confidence, and sophistication–everything that I and the narrator lacked. At the age of twenty, I was one raw, exposed nerve and every life experience, good or bad, jangled me, making me feel unsure of myself and inferior.
Listening to the book now on CD, I recognize what I used to be in the narrator and I also became extremely annoyed by how sensitive she is and how easily she lets others manipulate and manhandle her. I thought I would turn the audiobook back in to the library before finishing it because the narrator’s simpiness bothered me so much, but then I got to the exquisite masquerade ball scene. The building tension and excruciating faux pas that occurs are beautifully done, and I see that narrator’s naivete is necessary to pull this story off.
This really is a novel about women and the evil that women do, especially to each other. Rebecca reminds me very much of a gothic Carrie, and I know that Stephen King has been quite influenced by Du Maurier’s story. In his novel Bag of Bones, the main character thinks of Rebecca often and quotes from the book. I wonder if Rebecca was influencing King back as far as his first novel Carrie, where the penultimate trick on Carrie is her hazing at the high school prom.
There’s the same women triangle–the ugly duckling, the slut, and the unwilling/willing accomplice to the cruel trick (King always said he didn’t trust Sue Snell’s intentions). The ugly ducklings both believe that with their dance finery and a little makeup they can change their situations on the social totem pole, and both of the characters get their comeuppance at the gala event and are made to feel ashamed of how they dressed and made themselves up, thinking they could be somebody different.
Carrie and Rebecca are classic novels–Mean Girls with teeth. I think more horror could be wrung from the subject of female aggression and will try to think of more books and movies on this subject.