“Je Reviens”: The Many Faces of Rebecca
Written by Angela Gualtieri
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” starts Daphne du Maurier’s gothic classic, drawing readers into the privileged life of the de Winters and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Maxim de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca (1). Mrs. de Winter, Maxim’s second wife, serves as our eyes as we learn about the house’s inhabitants and customs, unraveling the multiple sides of Manderley and all its occupants. This is especially apparent in the novel’s titular character, Rebecca, although she never appears on the page herself. Rebecca’s larger-than-life presence casts a unique shadow upon each person she encounters. The people who survive Rebecca carry her memories and shape her legacy, not unlike some of history’s famous and forgotten women. As Mrs. de Winter searches for Rebecca’s truth, we begin to understand the impossibility of knowing a person, particularly, a woman, through the many layers of gossip, history, and bias.
Sisters by Daisy Johnson (Riverhead Books 2020)
Reviewed by Nora Poole
Sisters, the chilling second novel from British writer Daisy Johnson, is about, well, sisters: a pair of them, named September and July, who leave their home in Oxford with their mother Sheela after a terrible incident occurs at their school. The three retreat to a ramshackle family home near the seaside, where the girls go about their days listless and inseparable, seemingly waiting out the depression that has settled on their mother. We enter the story in what feels like the aftermath, a climax already nestled in the past. The entirety of the novel feels like it’s both building toward the moment we find out what happened at the girls’ school, and like it’s fleeing that same moment. The book is an unsettling portrait of the teenage sisters’ troubled- and troubling- relationship, asking how much of ourselves we are willing to sacrifice for love, groping for the line between protecting your loved ones and consuming them.
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams (Doubleday Books 2020)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
Clare Beams’ new novel, The Illness Lesson is a gripping historical fiction that will leave you on the edge of your seat. The novel is set in Ashwell, Massachusetts in 1871, where Samuel Hood, a retired transcendental essayist, is establishing The School for the Trilling Heart. This private school for young women is the first of its kind. Its courses are taught by Samuel, young Civil War veteran David, and Samuel’s daughter Caroline. Throughout the novel, we follow Caroline as she struggles with her identity as an educated, unwed twenty-eight year old woman.