57. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)

As we move up the chart, there are several writers who could have been featured three or four times if that were allowed. Daphne du Maurier is one of them: I would happily include My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn in this list. But Rebecca is in a league of its own, and there’s a good reason why film makers keep coming back to it. From that first famous opening sentence onwards, Rebecca grips with the intensity of a nightmare. Never has so much fear, sexual confusion and cruelty been shoved into what, on the surface, is a popular romantic novel. The arty touches are brilliantly subtle – the narrator’s namelessness doesn’t really strike you till the second half of the novel, while the truth remains as elusive and shifting as any creative writing teacher could wish. And yet, for all this slippery stuff, Rebecca is first and foremost a narrative powerhouse. Personally (and predictably) I’ve always been obsessed by the character of Mrs Danvers, the sinister housekeeper. Sometimes I like to horrify my husband by being ‘discovered’ going through his pretty underthings.

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Filed under My top 100 novels

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