Book recs for writers: Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

This is what kept me from writing all weekend. My tax prep service, the owner of which also owns a used book store, had a shelf offering free paperbacks, and I picked my copy up there when we got our taxes done. I’d heard of the Hitchcock movie, natch, but I don’t recall ever having seen it, and this isn’t my usual genre, so I was a little trepidatious as to how much I’d enjoy it. But I’ve been in “read everything” mode lately–partly for writerly self-improvement, although, more practically, also because we can’t afford new books right now. So I finally cracked it open and gave it a chance.

It’s not a fast-paced book. It definitely takes its time, and that’s not a bad thing in this case. I was put off at first–as I tend to be–by the lengthy descriptions of both characters and setting, until I realized that they served the purpose of characterizing the narrator via her perceptions as much as it characterized anything being described. The descriptiveness also serves to help subtly build a haunting, foreboding atmosphere, without laying it on too thick. Really, so far (I’m not finished with it yet) it’s more a character-driven book focused on relationships than it is a thriller. Nothing bad has actually happened to anybody, at least not physically. The sense of dread I’m getting so far is in anticipating the emotional damage that the narrator is likely to suffer. And yet, this is a page-turner. All weekend, I only put it down to eat, pee, do the laundry, and then finally to have Easter dinner with the family, and it was always set down grudgingly.

I think this book holds some great lessons on how to create mood, build tension and suspense, and how to build a character-driven story via relationships. It’s also a good example, I think, of an unreliable narrator, one who is often too naive to fully understand what’s going on. I highly recommend it be added to your reading list.

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