Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Number 21 this year is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Its a 'classic' novel, written in 1938. I've heard about it for years and years and thought about reading it. I know that Hitchcock made a movie from the novel, but I've never seen it either.

The novel, told in first person, is from the pov of the nameless narrator, the second Mrs. De Winter. She's a young girl, barely out of university, travelling as a paid companion to an older, British woman in Monte Carlo, when she catches the fancy of the mysterious, and much older, Maxim De Winter. De Winter, it turns out, is in Monte Carlo to get over the events of the past year, where he lost his beautiful, accomplished wife Rebecca, in a sailing accident.

When the narrator's companion catches a bad case of influenza, she and De Winter hit it off, so much so that he ends up marrying her rather than have her go off to New York with her employer. The sudden marriage takes everyone by surprise, and in fact, the most people seem to be able to say is that she is so very 'unlike Rebecca'.

The couple return to De Winter's majestic, Cornwall estate, Manderly, and it is there that the narrator is beseiged with the memory and presence of the late Mrs. De Winter. The servants constantly tell her that 'that was not how Mrs. De Winter did it'. She only hears about how beautiful and wonderful Rebecca was. And most of all, the head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was extremely devoted to Rebecca, and seems to go to great length to keep her memory alive, including setting the narrator up for a very great faux pas on the night of the newlywed's first fancy ball.

The narrator's despair at Manderly grows greater and greater as the gulf between she and her husband grows greater and greater. The more she hears of Rebecca, the more she is convinced that De Winter is still in love with his late wife, that Rebecca will always be between them.

And Rebecca is between the narrator and her husband, but not in the way the reader thinks.

The truth comes out one terrible night, allowing the narrator to finally put Rebecca's ghost behind her, but, De Winter's actions regarding the late Rebecca threaten to tear their world apart anyway, and De Winter can only say that Rebecca has indeed won, even after her death.

The book is gorgeously written, the Cornwall country-side written with loving detail. The characters are interesting, from the sinsiter Mrs. Danvers, to the naive narrator, to stoic De Winter, to the enigmatic Rebecca.

Its very much shaped like a mystery, or a throwback to the old, gothic romances, and in fact, had Rebecca turned up as an honest to goodness ghost, I would not have felt that out of place. But this is more a mystery than anything, as the narrator tries to piece together the life of her predecessor, only to find out, like everyone else, had Rebecca completely wrong.

It's an interesting thing, reading a book told by a character who has no first name. Its an intimate narrative point of veiw from someone we're not even on a first name basis with. I had thought this might make me think the narrator was unreliable, but I don't think that was the case, rather, she was simply mislead, just as everyone else was. Our journey to know the truth is pretty much the same as the narrator's.

There is intreque and blackmail and murder and everything that makes a good mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would like to check out the Hitchcock movie now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

We're out of the teens and onto number 20 now!

Number 20 is The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. It's a translation of an extremely popular Russian novel. In fact, the movie that went on to be made from this became the top grossing movie in Russian history.

G saw this movie some time ago (I guess when it came out over here a few years back) and so, finding out that my mother was a big horror/vampire/werewolf officionado, decided to give this book to her for Christmas. Mom enjoyed it (although, typical of my mother, she had a hard time remembering the foreign names), so G decided to pick it up (and its sequel, The Day Watch)and read it as well.

So of course, having been raised on horror/vampire/werewolf literature myself, I also decided to give it a go.

Lukyanenko has built himself an interesting world. Its set in modern day Moscow, but, unbeknownst to most, the world is also populated by the supernatural 'Others', the vampires, werewolves, magicians, sorceresses etc. of the old tales. For the most part, these Others exist pretty much alongside hjmanity, but some Others, the Dark ones, will use their powers for their own gain, and kill humans for food or sport, or sometimes both. However, there are also Light Others, who use their powers for the greater good, or to heal or whatever. At some point, a Treaty was struck between the two groups of Others, and the Night Watch, consisting of Light Others who police the Dark ones, and the Day Watch, consisting of Dark Others to police the Light ones, were born.

The world itself is well crafted and has good internal consistency. Powers are never totally, clearly defined, but they are all 'graded', and the two Watches give all the mystical stuff a nicely done bearucratic feel. It makes sense that magic and powers and monsters would have to be governed in the modern day.

The book itself is told mainly through the POV of one Anton Gorodetsky, a smart, earnest Night Watchman with a decent amount of power, but not a heck of alot. At the start of the first story, he's just been promoted to field duty and is still finding his way about. The first story deals with him mainly meeting two other characters, Egor, a young Other who has not yet made his choice between the Light and Dark, and Svetlana, a woman who will become a rare, Great Sorceress, and whom also falls in love in Anton.

Anton's an interesting character, but I did find him to get a little too 'emo' sometimes, especially in the final story, where it all becomes clear what Svetlana was being groomed so quickly for by the boss of the Night Watch. Anton struggles throughout the final story with his feelings for Svetlana and the entire struggle between Light and Dark, which is undoubtedly a normal thing, but it just got tiring after awhile. Don't get me wrong though, he's nowhere near as whiney as Lestat gets...

I think it was the second story that was my favourite, where Anton has to track down and capture a Maverick Other; an Other that neither the Night Watch or the Day Watch had previously found, who is running around killing Dark Others. To make matters more interesting, the Day Watch is subtely framing Anton for the murders as well. It was a nice mystery/cat and mouse story.

I enjoyed the book overall and will continue on with the Day Watch.

Oh, and because I watch a lot of hockey, the Russian names didn't really throw me for a loop like they did my mom :)