Friday, December 28, 2018

Book Review - Sally Beauman's Rebecca's Tale

Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman
Published by: HarperCollins e-books
Publication Date: 2000
Format: Kindle, 466 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Colonel Julyan has always wondered if he did wrong by Rebecca. He was her only real friend when she was the mistress of Manderley and he never looked too closely at the verdict of suicide once it was revealed she was dying of cancer. Could her husband, Maxim, have killed her in a jealous rage without ever realizing she was using him to end her life? Ever since that day in London, before Manderley burnt to the ground, the Colonel has had questions and has never searched for the answers. Almost twenty years have passed, Maxim is now dead, but the sensational tales of Rebecca de Winter and Manderley are still dredged up by the press every few years. There are even a few books circulating about. But the Colonel thinks that he has put the past behind him. That is until Terence Gray appears asking questions and giving the Colonel nightmares. The Colonel has always kept his suspicions close to his chest. Never even telling his daughter about his misgivings. But his health is failing and perhaps the last thing he needs to do before he dies is settle his score with Rebecca and that might just begin with letting Terence Gray in. Because Terence knows that the Colonel holds all the cards, the village gossips have given him tons of hearsay, but he needs the truth. He needs the truth about Rebecca, because it might just be his truth as well.

For years I have staunchly refused to read Rebecca's Tale. Having had a bad experience reading Susan Hill's Mrs. de Winter I swore off all books that were prequels, sequels, or retellings of Rebecca vowing to cling only to the words of the great Daphne Du Maurier. And then I waivered. Why did I waiver? Why couldn't I have been steadfast? Why couldn't I have found some other something, anything, to fill this last day of Du Maurier December instead of forcing myself to slog through this book? Because Rebecca's Tale is way longer than you'd think, the almost 500 pages are set in eight point font if you buy the book and then return it to Amazon realizing your eyes can't take eight point font and instead read it on your Kindle. But my main problem is the hubris to think that you can write a sequel to Rebecca and even use Daphne Du Maurier's famous opening line slightly tweaked as if you had the genius to come up with it on your own? Oh Sally Beauman, shame, shame, shame. There's a reason there are so few reimaginings of Rebecca versus the work of Jane Austen. Everyone else knew better! Everyone knows not to randomly take plot points from other characters and make then apply to Rebecca. Everyone knows not to purposefully defecate on a classic with reinterpreting every little thing and hating on that which Du Maurier held dear. Everyone but you that is.

Yet if this book is any indication of Sally Beauman's ability as a writer she's just not that good. She doesn't go in for subtly or nuance, instead using a blunt instrument to hammer home every point a thousand times over. While Du Maurier might have lacked nuance in her earlier writing or some of her dramatic reveals, she was unparalleled in using the nuance of language to covey her story. So Beauman couldn't have been a worse choice to carry on Du Maurier's legacy, a writer like her isn't humble enough to understand there are some things you just can't improve on. Instead she used heavy-handed narration. Repeating ad nauseum that a narrator has a bias, thus casting aspersions on Du Maurier's own writing! As for her own? She shows bias by making Colonel Julyan a misogynist who doesn't get the irony of his repeatedly telling Terence to beware bias. Remember bias, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, and here's a bat over your head if you haven't grasped the concept of unreliable narrators. But with all the heavy-handed foreshadowing you might just have missed the neon warning sign of bias. Between all the "no inkling then of the revelations that were to come today" and "I...wasn’t to understand its significance for several days" or "and it was then that she gave me information that would prove crucial, though I didn’t realize that immediately" you might have started a drinking game to pass the time and passed out in the process.

As for what drives Rebecca's Tale? There really aren't unanswered questions or loose ends to tie up from Du Maurier's story so the majority of this book is laboriously rehashing the details of Rebecca over and over and over. Big reveals being things we already knew but these characters didn't, like Rebecca's inability to have children. Did we need two hundred pages leading up to this reveal that shocked Terence to his core? NO! Because Du Maurier had done and dusted it before. What loose ends Du Maurier did leave are not answered here at all. Because the only wise move Sally Beauman makes is to know that she is ill equipped to answer those things which are better left unanswered. So we have a book with hundreds of pages devoted to revealing that what we knew and then when she does start to diverge, when she does start to create her own story she decides to purposefully leave everything open-ended. Excuse me? So this book is basically the characters from Rebecca analyzing their own story and then coming to no solid conclusions? But not in a fun Jasper Ffordian way, in a horrible, stodgy, dissertation sort of way? Why would anyone want to write this book let alone read it? Sally Beauman purposefully not filling in the blanks from Maxim's father's will to what really happened with Rebecca and her father filled me with such rage that I almost threw my Kindle across the room until I remembered it wasn't the Kindle's fault. It was Sally Beauman's.

Though by far the most frustrating section of this book is when we finally read "Rebecca's Tale." Here's the first person narration of Rebecca we've been waiting for all along and boy does it disappoint. Because ironically, the characters searching for answers we already knew at least had a bit of mystery, a bit of a forward momentum. Here Rebecca elliptically lays everything out. And while she omits a lot it's too straightforward. There's no way to connect to the story. There's no element of the hunt anymore so these revelations don't feel earned by the writer or the reader. Plus the misogynistic tone of Colonel Julyan starts to spill into Rebecca's own story. If I didn't know for a fact that Sally Beauman is a women I'd say she was a man who really hates women. Maybe she's just a woman who hates other women? Because how else can I account for the victim blaming which oozes off these pages? Rebecca was raped as a seven year old child in France by a fourteen year old boy. She isn't just blamed by her mother and all the locals, Max blames her and even starts to identify with her rapist. What. The. Fuck? If this was a gimmick to tar Maxim, it doesn't work, instead it tars the author. She comes across as someone who wouldn't support the #MeToo movement and in fact might go on television and claim he sexual assault was all her fault. Yes, Du Maurier did write a story about the destruction of a strong willed woman. But she would not have written her ever as a victim.

The biggest problem though with Rebecca's Tale is that while Sally Beauman obviously knows her Du Maurier she doesn't understand it. She can throw out as many hints to her life and work from J.M. Barrie to The Birds, but she doesn't understand the true underpinnings of Rebecca. Instead she tries to force a statement about women and marriage and subservience that doesn't connect to her source material at all. Rebecca had it's roots in Jane Eyre, and both stories deal with the roles women have in society and what that means. Yet both the second Mrs. de Winter and Jane in the end are the ones with power. They love and care for their husbands but they are in complete and total control. By entering a state of wedded bliss they didn't give up their power they eventually found it. Therefore to have Colonel Julyan's daughter throw away her past as a caretaker and deny herself marriage for freedom shows just how ignorant Sally Beauman is, she doesn't understand the power shifts. The whole point of Du Maurier's book is that women can have power in traditional roles that you wouldn't think would give them power. As much as I have mixed feelings over Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea at least she understood her source material. She GOT Jane Eyre and therefore made a classic in her own right. She understood women and power and wasn't about distorting the original but about giving it an even deeper meaning instead of victim blaming and sweeping the ashes under the carpet.

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