Monday, March 19, 2007

Rebecca and the Pleasure of Suspense

posted by Julia Buckley

Back in January I listed Rebecca as one of my all-time favorite suspense novels; I would also suggest that the Hitchcock movie with Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier almost does justice to the book, and is a piece of art in its own right. While I can't go into any spoiler-type details about the book or the movie, I can assure any blog readers who haven't encountered one or the other that either would provide hours of delicious suspense. I have a colleague who once saw me holding the book and said, "Oh, you're reading Rebecca? That book is the reason I became an English teacher."

Books like this remind us why it's such a pleasure to be a reader, and why I feel sorry for people who tell me they don't read, or they never "got into" reading. There's so much satisfaction in getting lost in a good book, and it's nothing like the more passive act of watching a film. Reading a book involves the reader; the reader almost becomes a character in the drama.

Recently I re-discovered a little gem on my bookshelf called The Freebody Heiress, by Ethel Edison Gordon. (1974) Like Rebecca, the mystery has an intriguing first line; both have to do with houses, which is of course a very gothic touch.

The first line of Rebecca is, I believe, "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again."

In Freebody, the narrator draws us in with this: "Sexton never looked for the gatehouse, no matter what anyone thought or said afterward. Neither did he intend it as a ploy, a deliberate excuse to meet Iris Freebody. He came upon it quite by chance, on the Friday before the first week of classes began at the college where he'd come to teach."

Gordon's matter-of-fact tone is at odds with the suggestion of mystery and conflict, and it's the sort of opener that draws me right in, that would have me reading right there in the library or bookstore aisle. This book, as a matter of fact, is a relic from a library, something I found at a booksale, and on its title page the word CANCELLED is stamped in red. How sad that word is to me now, as both a reader and a writer. A book this good should never be cancelled, but should bring enjoyment to lovers of suspense for years to come.

I've read the entire book and enjoyed it thoroughly, as have my mother and sister, who are my mini reading club. Anyone reading this blog can join that club, too! Here's to the oldies, which are always fun to mix in with the newies. Next time you're in between books, try one of the dusties at the back of the library shelf, or find Du Maurier's or Edison's books and give one a try. Not only do they provide suspenseful journeys, but they are permeated with a sense of nostalgia.



MJRose said...

I absolutely will get this book, never heard of it but since Rebecca is also one of my all time favorites, I'm off to Amazon.

(And you have read Robert Goddard right?)

Lonnie Cruse said...

I adore the movie and the book. Whew, what writing!

Julia Buckley said...

No, MJ, I haven't! Should I be reading Robert Goddard right now?
The Gordon book is a smaller undertaking than the mighty Rebecca, but I enjoyed it. It was quietly suspenseful.

Yes, Rebecca has lots of fans, Lonnie, so I guess we're in good company.