Updating a classic is a risky proposition and, in the wrong hands, the resulting novel could turn out to be little more than a pale imitation. Fortunately, Lisa Gabriele’s new take on Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is a strong, dynamic thriller in its own right. Rebecca was published 80 years ago, but the idea of a young friendless woman caught up in the drama of an aristocratic family still has the power to thrill and fascinate. The Winters follows much of Rebecca’s outline and it was fun to spot familiar points coming up in the plot – the dress is handled brilliantly – but I also very much appreciated Gabriele’s own narrative plotting which builds to a very satisfying ending that I did not expect. Our protagonist is a young woman, very much alone in the world, who is working on tourist boats on Grand Cayman when Max Winters steps into her life. A handsome, sophisticated American senator, his proposal of marriage is a far cry from what she had come to expect of her existence and, within a very short space of time, she finds herself ensconced in Asherley, his family home.
The creation of the new step-daughter, Dani, to replace the sinister Mrs Danvers in the original is an inspired choice. Bringing in a teenage antagonist enables Gabriele to focus on the impact of social media on our notions of perfection and beauty. This updating also means that her Rebekah can remain present in the world of media and social media after her death, and it allows for the insidious creeping sense of paranoia that our ‘unremarkable’ narrator feels. As she admits, the highly publicised celebrity enjoyed by her dead predecessor means that ‘it wasn’t Rebekah who came after me. I was the one who went looking for her.’ She is able to read about Rebekah, to ‘lurk’ on Dani’s Instagram account.
Danvers becoming Dani also plays on the motherless state of our narrator, and the sense of being unmoored runs throughout the novel in many guises. However, our narrator is stronger than those around her perhaps suspect,
‘Despite what passed for shyness, I could be ruthless like that, make a decision and then act, filing and organizing emotions as efficiently as I did a boat schedule in high season’,
And it is this which makes her such a fascinating character to follow. She is at first cowed by the unsettling and unpredictable Dani, but as events unfold we see her beginning to trust her instincts. And this is very much her story, told in a voice that is distinct from Du Maurier’s heroine.
I’d love to know how long it took Gabriele to come up with her opening line – Du Maurier’s is so famous after all – but it certainly works well, establishing this as an exciting new story but also providing a frisson of familiarity: ‘Last night Rebekah tried to murder me again.’ Gripping stuff!
My thanks to Mia Quibell-Smith at Vintage for my copy. Join the rest of the Blog Tour here: