Tuesday, September 20, 2011

two more for the shelf: Bright Lights, Big Ass (Jennifer Lancaster) and Rebeca (Daphne Du Maurier)

I confess...I get nervous when my "to-read" pile shrinks.  I recently signed up for an Amazon Visa.  The APR is high but there's no monthly fee so it is fine by me since I pay off my CCs monthly.  I got a $40 credit to the first order and am now getting Amazon points.  In my world, that may be better than cash.  I usually go for used books, often under a dollar unless it is one I am really seeking out....there's still shipping costs involved (esp since they are from different sellers so don't qualify for free shipping), but it is still a good deal.

I believe this is my third Jen Lancaster book.  I enjoyed it, but the sheen if off a bit since I feel like it is getting a bit repetitive.  Lancaster has a knack for humor, often a bit self-deprecating, but they do start to feel repetitious.  I am giving it three stars but it might have gotten more if I wasn't just a bit worn out on the same tale (really, how many memoirs can a thirty-something with a not-so-out-of-the-ordinary history have?!)  Totally my own doing in buying another one....and it might have more stars if it was my first or second foray in "Jennsylvania" (her website name).  She focuses on the reality of city life in Chicago, largely as she's climbing back up the economic ladder after a rough and sudden drop thanks to the economy.  Absolutely made me laugh but the change in focus from my prior Lancaster reads wasn't enough to make for a new book that held me.

After reading many more recent books where other reviewers made parallels to Rebecca, I felt like it was a gap in my reading list.  I have been enjoying what I term "literary mysteries" for several years, many of which could also carry the "gothic" label, and this seemed to be a frequently cited model for the genre.

This book, penned in the 1903s, presents an unnamed narrator who marries a man about whom she knows very little.  The marriage thrusts her into an upper-class world that is unfamiliar and takes her to his famed estate, Manderley.  The narrator feels haunted by the memories that her husband, townsfolk, and the staff (especially the head housekeeper) have of the husband's first wife, Rebecca.  It is hard to say much more without creating spoilers of things that unfold towards the middle and end of the novel.

I'm having more trouble than normal organizing my thoughts on Rebecca.  I'm giving it four stars, although it definitely dragged.  In many ways, it felt more like a "novel of manners" (throwback phrase from my English-major days) and a romance than a mystery.  But I do think the subtlety of Rebecca's presence is very well done and much more realistically drawn than a lot of novels garnering the "gothic" label.  It is a mental and emotional haunting, not a story of ghosts.  I never developed a very firm opinion of the narrator, which may explain my hesitation on the four stars.  But the prose, while lengthy, is quite lovely and held me through the whole story.  I appreciated the was the author built the intrigue in a story that is largely about mental and emotional struggles (the "action" starts late).  I also appreciate that the novel clearly lays a foundation for future works and for future women authors.  Worth a read for book lovers captured by more recent titles who want to see a bit of their "roots" and have the patience for a slower paced read.

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