Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Rebecca is a great example of a novel that's far, far better than it has any right to be. Reading a plot summary makes it sound like hundreds of other Gothic novels: a young girl marries a rich, older man and moves to his beautiful but unnerving estate. Once there, she comes into contact with various strange and mysterious characters and eventually uncovers a terrible secret, one that changes our perspective on everything that came before. Boilerplate, right?
But such a summary misses two vitally important elements that set Rebecca apart from other genre exercises: first, Mme. du Maurier's sparkling but never--or at least rarely--melodramatic prose. If you've read much in the Gothic genre, you know how rare that is; she knows how to underplay the watershed moments for dramatic effect, and when to ramp up her description of the mundane until it becomes almost unbearably tense.
Secondly, du Maurier is a master plotter. Chris mentioned this in his review, but Rebecca isn't a genre exercise built around a twist; rather, it's winding narrative that maintains, and maybe even increases, its power once you know exactly how everything plays out. If I were to add a third element, I'd say the characters are remarkably well-drawn, but to say much more on that, or any, point might be to spoil the novel for those of you who haven't read it.
Rebecca seems to me, in some ways, the perfect novel of its type: engrossing and easily readable without sacrificing depth or beauty. There's more here than a simple mystery or romance--Du Maurier's musings about time and loss--always organic to the narrative--are moving and powerful, but don't get in the way of the story. If you haven't, you should read Rebecca.
Also, the line quoted above: one of the greatest opening lines of all time, right?