Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier (1938)
Rebecca's Tale, by Sally Beauman (2001)
I first read Rebecca many years ago. Who could forget that first line--last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again... In order to read Rebecca's Tale, which starts with the same sentence, I went back and re-read the older novel first so that it was fresh in my mind.
The first book is told in the voice of Max de Winter's second, never-named wife and focuses on his first wife, the dead Rebecca. The poor little nameless and quite colorless narrator, unprepared for her life at the great estate of Manderley, struggles to deal with the gothic forces around her, and always with the memories and stories and theories and mysteries surrounding Rebecca, her life, and her death.
The second book is told in the voices of four people--Colonel Julyan, a man near the end of his life who is coming to terms with the choices he has made; Terence Gray, a young man trying to find out about his mysterious connection to Manderley's past; Rebecca herself, through a series of journals that she has left behind; and Colonel Julyan's daughter, Ellie.
With their changing points of view we learn about different facets of each character and events that are remembered and interpreted in different ways. The living struggle to understand the lives of the dead.
Again and again, I was reminded of all the knowledge and memories that are suddenly gone when we lose someone in our own families. Things that are "known" might be founded on misunderstandings or misinterpretations. After my own mother died I began to dig through the family history, always wishing that I could turn to her and simply ask the questions that I was left with. I even found out that her whole family's surname had been legally changed back in 1915, so that my early research had been chasing up the wrong family tree, so to speak.
So many questions, so many lost memories, so much misunderstanding. It's a wonder that we have any idea at all of the histories of ourselves and of our communities.