The Ghost Story Without a Ghost…Maybe: ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

Sometimes a perfect book experience doesn’t need a synesthesia like comparison to know what it feels like to read that book (but even so, the song and food comparisons are below). Sometimes a novel is such a shining example of genre that all you need to do is name comparable titles and you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. That’s the case with ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier.

If you’re like me and you came to this novel later in life, you’ll admonish yourself for not reading it sooner. While it would be easy to compare ‘Rebecca’ to other books, it’s more likely that ‘Rebecca’ was the origin for a wave of literature inspired by it.

‘Rebecca’ both in the way it’s written and the way it was critically received cannot be easily categorized. It’s both larger and smaller than it seems. I know, I’m being obtuse, so I’ll say this: I recommend the book as much for the story as for the Afterword by Sally Beauman. The insights and context she provides for du Maurier’s novel significantly enhance the reading experience.  And I can’t say much more about it because…spoilers!

But, let’s talk about ghosts.

If you’ve ever been told that what you saw with your own eyes was not real or true and you felt the gut-wrenching torture of your mind slowly folding in on itself, than the horror of this novel will resonate with you. It’s got a creepy house. It’s got a shifty businessman. It’s got mean girls. It’s got a ghost without the usual paranormal trappings.

This book will exercise your brain. Watch how everything you learn throughout a chapter will be swiftly turned on its head in the last sentence and you’ll have to mull over the implications for a week before moving on to the next chapter. This is a story crafted with impeccable literary puzzles. Writing teachers talk about leaving ‘breadcrumbs’ for readers and du Maurier certainly does…but the crumbs lead in circles, and critters have eaten a few of them, and eventually you’re not sure if what you’re following is crumbs or pebbles.

And yet, it’s much less frustrating than it sounds.

What it sounds like:

The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29, Sergei Rachmaninoff

What it tastes like:

Raw lemon. Tart, refreshing, cleansing.

A note about the movie adaptation on Netflix:

The film does an excellent job of capturing the aesthetic of the book, and the casting is good. But like many adaptations, the changes to the story rob ‘Rebecca’ of its impact. Ye be warned.

This Book Might Be Your Next Read If:

  • Your favorite book is ‘Jane Eyre’ (or it’s one of your top 5)
  • You’re looking for a classic novel to read at Halloween and you’ve already read all the other classic novels that are fun to read around Halloween
  • You like books that are difficult to put into any one genre
  • You like subtext
  • You’re an English major and hot takes like “actually, the house was the protagonist” thrill you

Photo credit: Little, Brown and Company

The Book That Embodies the ‘Blue Dress/Gold Dress’ Debate: ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig

The internet of books is having an argument. ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig is a book that generates polarizing reactions. Naturally, this has lead to its popularity. As of this writing the book has spent 20 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list and is currently in the top 10 for fiction. This book is being read by a lot of people, and you’ve probably read it, plan to read it, or have heard about it from someone else. In a way that inevitably feels like life imitating art, the conversation around this book is much like the experience of reading the book: it is the blue dress/gold dress debate all over again.

In the debate over the dress, the difference of opinion ultimately rose from differences in perception, and the opinions of this book likely arise from the same place, and coincidentally, perception is the major theme the book’s protagonist grapples with. It’s all perception. Which, everything is, but this is especially.

So, whether you’ll appreciate this book for its commentary on mental health among other things, or feel like you were expecting a chocolate chip cookie but bit into a raison one, as a reviewer named ’emma’ says on Goodreads, you may want to plan to read this book more than once.

This book is less about what mood it will put you in and more about the story transmuting to fit the mood you’re already in.

Which makes me think about how difficult it is to decide on what to eat when you don’t know what you’re in the mood for. Or, if you’re planning food for a party and you don’t know what the guests like to eat. I think this is what lead to the invention of charcuterie boards (it’s not). Reading ‘The Midnight Library’ is a bit like ordering a charcuterie board.

You might fancy the cheese bits, or crave the salty cured meat, but I’ll bet you don’t sample every item on the plate. You probably stick to two or three favorites. This tendency for favoritism shows up in ‘The Midnight Library’ too. With a structure that almost feels like a collection of short stories, it’s likely that some chapters will stick out more to you than others.

And while the book might feel like you’re being taken through many books, the thread that weaves the story together is a tone that gradually moves from despair to, well, I don’t want to spoil anything.

There’s a bittersweet feeling to this book that I think you’ll hear in the song “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot (and you might find a few literal allusions in the lyrics, too).

This Book Might Be Your Next Read If:

  • You like to see what everyone else is talking about when it comes to popular books
  • You can’t get enough of stories about the multiverse
  • You like stories that feel especially ‘of the times’
  • You’re feeling lost and looking for a story that reflects your experience (or at least is in the ballpark of your experience)

Purchase ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig (Viking/Penguin Random House LLC)

The Book That Feels Like an Imaginary Friend: ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ by V.E. Schwab

‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ by V.E. Schwab is a story that feels so special you’ll want to keep it a secret. But you can’t because it seems everyone already knows about this book. In case you haven’t stumbled across this novel, know this: you’ll want to savor every word to make it last.

Reading this book will feel like a new lover, like limerence. You’ll want to talk to this story, and in its own way, the story will talk back. This is why this book will be your imaginary friend. If you’ve ever felt like no one notices you, that the world moves in rhythms you can’t mimic or match, you will feel seen by this book. Incredibly, the novel’s premise and the novel’s aesthetic are one and the same. It will feel like an imaginary friend because meeting Addie LaRue is like having an imaginary friend.

If this book could be distilled in to a poem, that poem would be the song ‘J’arrive à la ville’ by Lhasa De Sela. Listen to the song and then, if you’re not fluent in French, read a translation of the lyrics.

It’s a bit uncanny the way Addie’s story is mirrored in the lyrics. Particularly, the part of her “Invisible Life” that follows her through France as she grapples with the reality of immortality by way of invisibility.

As the reader, you’ll feel like Addie’s only companion, which will draw you further into her world and her confidence. Lhasa Del Sela’s melancholic voice holds the same sort of sorrow that Addie feels as everyone in her life forgets her. In both the song and the novel, this sorrow is dignified and points to a deep inner strength.

For a story about a French woman who has nothing, I would offer, almost as a gift, that the culinary companion to this novel should be a baguette. A simple, textured food that feels nourishing, a baguette can be meal or snack, served plain or with cheese, or as a sandwich, or with chocolate. A baguette, in its versatility, represents the joy and hope this story contains.

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you are a Francophile, art lover, book lover, and/or lover of the difficult to explain
  • If you appreciate LGBTQ love stories
  • If you appreciate nondualistic descriptions of very old concepts
  • If you appreciate clever characters
  • If you appreciate modern ways of thinking applied to settings from the past

Photo Credit: Indie Bound, Publisher Tor Books