The Roads to Rebecca

Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is a classic novel for very good reason — the suspenseful tone, the clever writing style, and compelling characters all make it a story for the ages. The original novel was published in 1938, and was turned into first a play in 1939, a film in 1940, and most recently a Netflix film released this year. If you’re not already aware (and let’s be honest, obsessed) with this story, here are some details about it and some different ways to experience it.

First, the basics: a young woman falls in love with an older man, Maxim De Winter, while working as a companion to a rich American woman in Monte Carlo. After a whirlwind romance, they marry and return to his estate, Manderley. Once they arrive, the young woman discovers the house is a monument to her husband’s deceased first wife, the Rebecca from the title. The house’s habits, decoration, and staff all bear her stamp, including a sinister housekeeper who undermines our insecure narrator at every turn, bullying her with stories of the glamorous Rebecca. In mounting distress, the narrator struggles both to escape Rebecca’s shadow and to uncover the dark secrets her husband is keeping from her about his past. Eventually, he confides in her, but that may only cause them more problems…

What I love about this book is how the writing style underscores the plot — the narrator is given no name other than Mrs. De Winter, while her predecessor Rebecca is not only named but is the book’s title. The narrator’s identity is literally erased, insignificant compared to Rebecca. Also, the story is told as a flashback, giving the reader enigmatic hints of the book’s ending long before it arrives – much as the narrator learns about Rebecca in mysterious bits and pieces.

Intrigued? Check out the book or the film version (or any one of the several available) from the library. But wait, there’s more!

Also released this year was a YA novel which retells the Rebecca story in a modern setting, to chilling effect. I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick echoes Du Maurier’s twisty plot full of drama, chills, and unexpected revelations. In this case, the story is about Anna, who comes to the Hamptons to spend the summer working as a nanny. She’s hoping for a fresh start but finds herself instead overshadowed by Zoe Spanos, a local girl who recently went missing, and who looks a LOT like Anna… Slowly, the mystery of Zoe Spanos takes over Anna’s life until she’s sure they’re linked by a dark connection. But did Anna really kill her? And how can she find the truth?

This is far from the only retelling of or companion to this iconic story, of course. There’s also Rebecca’s Tale, The Winters, Mrs. De Winter, In Her Shadow, and more. If you like atmospheric mysteries, thrillers, or marriage stories, check out any of these titles from the Rebeccaverse.

Jolly Holidays in the Forties!

Lately, my mother and I have been on 1940’s holiday movie binge and they are all FANTASTIC! Of course we watch Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) every year, but here is a list of some of the  films that we have just discovered:

It Happened on 5th Avenue
(1947)
Starring: Don DeFore, Ann Harding and Charles Ruggles

A homeless man and ex-GI secretly move into a millionaire’s empty mansion during the holidays and are soon joined by a young woman after they catch her robbing the mansion of its fur coats. Unbeknownst to the gentlemen, the young woman is actually the millionaire’s runaway daughter and soon she invites her cranky father, the millionaire, to move in with her as an undercover vagrant.

Christmas in Connecticut
(1945)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet

A Martha-Stewartish journalist becomes frantic when her publisher insists she treats an injured GI to a real family-oriented Christmas at her Connecticut home–what will happen when they find out she has no cooking skills, no husband, no baby, and no home in Connecticut?!

The Shop Around the Corner
(1940)
Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan

Two workers in a Budapest gift-shop absolutely loathe each other, but are unaware that they are each other’s beloved anonymous pen-pal. Who will be the first to discover the truth? This is the original movie that inspired You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks!

Holiday Affair
(1949)
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Wendell Corey

Classic romance where a single mother struggles to choose between a comfortable fiancé and an unexpected romantic stranger on Christmas.

DVDs for December

December 1

smithsonianNight at the Museum : Battle of the Smithsonian –  Ben Stiller, Amy Adams

History is larger than life, and twice as funny, in this monumental comedy sequel. Larry Daley is a former night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits come to life after dark. Now Larry’s nocturnal friends are being retired to the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, luring him back for a hilarious, all-out battle against museum misfits who plan to take over the Smithsonian, and the world.

terminatorTerminator Salvation – Christian Bale

John Connor’s path into the future is altered by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row, and he must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

December 8

half blood princeHarry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for another year of schooling and learns more about the dark past of the boy who grew up to become Lord Voldemort. There was a time when Hogwarts was thought of as a safe haven, but thanks to Voldemort’s tightening grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds, that simply isn’t the case anymore.

juliaJulie and Julia – Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

Julia Child’s beginning in the cooking profession is intertwined with the life of thirty-year-old Julie Powell, who decides to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s first book in one year to escape from the monotony of her daily life.

December 15

bastardsInglourious Basterds – Brad Pitt

During World War II, a group of Jewish-American guerilla soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine, known as ‘The Basterds,’ are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds soon cross paths with a French-Jewish woman who runs a movie theater in Paris which is targeted by the soldiers. A plot is set in motion to kill the Nazis at the theater’s movie premiere, including Adolf Hitler.

December 22

districtDistrict 9

Twenty years ago, aliens from another planet made contact with Earth. Now, the refugee camp they are forced to live in has deteriorated into a slum-like ghetto. When field operative Wikus van der Merwe is put in charge of evicting the aliens, he contracts a strange virus that changes his DNA to match that of the refugees. As his body begins to mutate, he becomes a hunted man, and the aliens’ only hope for freedom.