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

Delightfully Uncomfortable and Perfectly Tender: ‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune

Whether it’s because of what I’ve been reading lately, or what writers have been writing, I haven’t cried during a book (multiple times!) for a very long time. ‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune will bring tears to your eyes for all the right reasons.

This story feels like a parable, except the teachers, or rather mentor figures, are comically authentic children, residents of the Marsyas Orphanage, and the student is a 40-something caseworker who needs to live a little. This story is what you wish Disney could be—woke enough to have an overtly gay protagonist and irreverent enough to make the Antichrist likeable.

This novel is character driven, and Klune has found a way to bring out both the child and adult in his characters. You will feel ‘all the things’ along with them—mischievous, indignant, curious, joyful, hurt, frightened, cared for, and loved. Don’t be surprised if you hug this book fiercely when you’re done with it.

Given the fantastical nature of this book, you can almost hear Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ as a soundtrack to this story.

The idiosyncratic characters are reflected in the tone of each movement. It’s said the composer, “intended to write the work for his students” (Wikipedia) and as such, you could pretend the songs were written for the children of the Marsyas Orphanage. This is not to say the children are like animals, they are not, and they experience painful bigotry in the story because of their magical status. This piece of music is fun, and the children remind the protagonist that fun is necessary.

Given also that the story follows idiosyncratic, authentic, witty, mischievous children, you’d do well to eat a dirt cupcake while helping yourself to this story. After all, isn’t the idea of eating worms positively silly and delightful?

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you need to be reminded of the goodness in people
  • If you’ve ever worked with children as a social worker or in any other teaching/mentoring role and loved it
  • If you’ve seen “Joe Versus the Volcano” and liked it
  • If you like your fantasy to feel very realistic