BENGALURU: Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca is twice haunted, once by the presence of a dead first wife and again by the absence of the living second. It is the story of a second marriage that struggles to exorcise the memories of the first.
Small wonder it soon became a best seller. Retired IAS officer Veena Rao read the book in 1965. “In those days, we didn’t have television or other fancy gadgets young people have today,” she says. “Books were our best friends and source of entertainment.”
Inspired by Rebecca, Rao has penned Charlotte’s End, released earlier this year. The book addresses all the loose ends of the original novel that had bothered readers and romantics in a real and satisfying manner.
But it is not a sequel to Rebecca. “It’s pretty much a standalone story inspired by Rebecca. A sequel is just a flight of fancy, if you feel strongly about how something in a story should have developed, or how someone should have behaved, or how the story should have ended.”
Rebecca inspired Rao because she is “one of the most enigmatic and sinister characters in Daphne du Maurier’s literary fiction of the last century. She stays in your mind long after you finish the book, or watch the movie. It is tempting to spin a story off a character like that.”
In Rao’s book, Charlotte is the dead ‘other woman’ much like Rebecca was in du Maurier’s novel. “It is Charlotte’s baneful influence (that is) slowly and gradually swept away with each event in the story. The end of the novel sees her end,” Rao explains.
Some of Rebecca’s characters
do make an appearance, “in different forms”, says Rao. “There are also some important, new characters.”
There are other similarities as well. The narrator and protagonist of Charlotte’s End is not named either, just as the younger Mrs de Winter was not in Rebecca. And like the mansion Manderley in Rebecca, there is Lanverndel in The Charlotte’s End.
“The couple go back,” says Rao of Charlotte’s End. “It is billeted during the war, and becomes the centre of secret intelligence activity.”
The civil service officer, who was commended for her initiatives to combat malnutrition, says her profession helped her writing.
“One thing I can say about civil service is that it brings you in contact with a wide range of people from the humblest to the mightiest,” she says. “It also makes you witness to events ranging from the absurd and bizarre to the noble and inspiring.”
The “heterogeneous experience” adds to your knowledge and triggers imagination. “It can make one’s writing richer,” she says.