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Rebecca's Tale Paperback – 2 May 2002
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Sally Beauman's Rebecca's Tale is an ambitious sequel to Daphne du Maurier's much-loved Rebecca, a classic tale of love and death. Beauman dares to tell the story of the enigmatic first mistress of Manderley, and not only proves herself a brave woman, but a storyteller of exceptional style and skill. Written as a "companion" rather than a sequel, the author succeeds in breathing life into the long-dead bones of the magnificent Rebecca and has furnished us with an alternative version of the events that would ultimately lead to her tragic death and the destruction of her beloved home.
The book opens on April 12, 1951, the 20th anniversary of Rebecca's death. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again", writes Colonel Julyan, an old family friend of the de Winters. As old age and ill health threaten to overtake him, 20 years of doubt about the true cause of Rebecca's death are sharply reawakened with the arrival of an anonymous parcel containing a small black notebook entitled Rebecca's Tale. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger, recently arrived in the locality, appears equally determined to find answers to the string of inconsistencies raised by Rebecca's life and death. The Colonel and his dutiful daughter Ellie are both drawn to the handsome, intelligent Terence Grey but both are wary and wonder if he really is what he appears to be.
As the plot twists and turns, the revelations are both shocking and inevitable. Favourite characters--spooky Mrs Danvers and Jack Favell, Rebecca's reckless cousin-drift in and out. This is a big book (495 pages), yet, once begun, most will find it difficult to put down-just as well for there are so many complexities it doesn't do to take your time. Ultimately, Rebecca's Tale offers its own version of events, yet for du Maurier fans, it is reassuring in that it raises many more. And, cleverly, Beauman has added her own, somehow more relevant sub-plot. Perhaps the "truth" about Rebecca's life is only as important as the legacy she left those whose lives she touched. What they choose to do with it, and how they choose to live their lives, is the central issue here. This novel will appeal to anyone who has ever read Rebecca and, thanks to her finely woven plot and subtle undercurrents of hope and inspiration, it will appeal just as much to those who have not. --Carey Green --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The artful Sally Beauman plays extremely clever games with the staples of popular fiction, moving the pieces to make original and intriguing patterns . . . A hugely entertaining read, seriously romantic and with a terrific sense of atmosphere. Sally Beauman's control of her complex material is absolute (Kate Saunders, DAILY EXPRESS)
Compelling, absorbing, captivating, haunting- Sally Beauman's most ambitious and imaginative book so far (Elaine Showalter)
REBECCA'S TALE is bold and clever...In this evocative and compulsive reworking of the balance of power between the sexes, Sally Beauman steers her creation into feminist territory and succeeds in overturning our loyalties. (Elizabeth Buchan, THE TIMES)
Once you start reading a Beauman book, you can't put it down, as Rebecca's Tale attests...I felt satisfied that she had done an extraordinary thing; she convinced me that the Rebecca of these assorted memories really was the Rebecce that du Maurier's novel (Linda Grant, GUARDIAN)
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Top customer reviews
Worst of all is her attempt at a 'feminist' slant to 'Rebecca's Tale' with the inclusion of this character's memoir - a ghastly bit of whinging me-me-me chick-lit addressed to an unborn child with clumsy sexual anecdotes & childhood flamboyances. I am reasoning Beauman wants it to be all very contempory by throwing in a paedophilic rape, several gay relationships and a rather tedious new heroine at the end of the book, who for all she is impressed by Rebecca's particular brand of wimmin's independence, nonetheless gets the hots for virtually all the male characters the moment she meets them when they just happen to be gorgeous, yet eventually rejects a caring suitor on the grounds she has to find/validate herself instead.
It is just terrible. And written without any of the subtlety and intrigue of Du Maurier's original masterpiece.
But it's hard to resist, and this one is an easy read that sucks you in pretty quickly. Opening with that famous first sentence from the original, it's 1951, twenty years have passed since Manderley burnt to the ground, and four different narrators are anxious to solve the mystery at the heart of Rebecca (although hadn't Max's big reveal at the end of the book already done that?)
But anyway, what were the spin-off options? A sympathetic prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea-style, filling us in on Rebecca's early life and restoring her reputation? A split narrative, using minor characters from the original story, offering differing viewpoints of what happened and making us doubt our conclusions? A sequel, telling us what happened to Mrs de W, Danny, Favell et al, taking it to the next generation?
In the end Sally Beauman opted for all of the above, with varying degrees of success. It opens well, with a good attempt at recreating the feel of the original. It's interesting to see things from starchy Colonel Julyan's perspective, and intriguing to work out where a new character, Tom Galbraith, fits into the story. But it starts to sag in the Rebecca's notebooks section, which is hugely overwrought and which doesn't make a great deal of logical or emotional sense. Julyan's dull and unconvincing daughter Ellie narrates the final section, which makes the ending flat as well as cheesy, and the portrayals of a middle-aged Mrs de Winter (that lack of a first name is really getting in the way by this point) and a ghostly Mrs Danvers are almost insultingly silly. By the end I wasn't recognising any of the characters from the original, and it all felt a bit muddled.
Which makes it sound like a bad book, which it isn't: it's one of the better attempts at a spin-off I've read, and I quite enjoyed it - though I'm still undecided as to whether prequels and sequels are a Good Thing.
Three and a half stars.