The Winters by Lisa Gabriele is a ‘retelling’ of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, originally published in 1938, and updates the story to a contemporary setting, this time relocating the grand mansion (Asherley instead of Manderley) to a private island in the US instead of a secluded estate in Cornwall, England. Most of the elements are intact, although there are adjustments to reflect the more modern attitudes of today and the use of contemporary technology.
I should start by saying that I think Rebecca is one of the greatest suspense novels of the twentieth century, and as such sets an almost impossible standard for any author to emulate. And I can’t say that Gabriele does a bad job of updating the story, it’s just that the whole thing feels so much weaker than the original. I found the first quarter of the book to be an unbelievably hard slog. It seemed to tick every clichéd romance stereotype I could think off, as the recently widowed but wealthy man sweeps our heroine off her feet and plunges her into a sumptuous world of manor houses and a lavish fantasy lifestyle. Max Winter’s daughter, Dani, is a fresh take on Mrs Danvers, delivering a recognisable reason for the cold resentment that festers between the characters. Gabriele’s writing is mostly workmanlike, rarely rising to anything near the elegance of du Maurier’s prose, but manages to tell its story adequately and with a decent pace. The novel undoubtedly improves once the characters leave the Cayman Islands and relocate to Asherley, with the spectre of Rebekah taking more of a backseat than in the original. The conflict between the narrator, Max Winter and Dani is handled well, with a subplot involving Dani’s backstory further adding a fresh twist to the proceedings.
The ending will offer few surprises to those who have read Rebecca, although there are a couple of nice twists relating to the new plot strands that the author has created. However the final chapter felt flat, heavily reliant on exposition, and almost tagged-on to the rest of the novel. Overall, this book didn’t quite work for me. As a ‘domestic noir’, it offers enough to keep most readers entertained, but there is nothing ground-breaking here, and by inviting comparisons by it being inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic, it is always going to seem a pale imitation.