Alena by Rachel Pastan By Rachel Pastan

In an inspired restaging of Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, a young curator finds herself haunted by the legacy of her predecessor.

Rachel Pastan invokes an exquisite, enigmatic storyline along with characters so surely reminiscent of those remembered by all lovers of the Du Maurier original. I felt a literary homecoming when I read the first line:

Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again

I shivered in memory of Mrs Danvers as the author introduces Agnes, felt the naivety of the nameless narrator and was a little dazzled by the attractive Bernard. This superb adaptation is a must read for all those who loved Rebecca and a brilliant new story for the uninitiated. Daphne du Maurier would be pleased. 4.5★ novel. 320 “Must every action—every word and thought—recall Alena? Swimming, currents, beaches, exhibitions, artists, parties. How long until my bodily presence had half the substance her absence did?”

An unnamed young art historian is unexpectedly hired as the curator of a small museum, after meeting the charismatic owner in Venice. As she tries to settle into her new position, she feels the haunting presence of the former curator, Alena. She must contend with Agnes, Alena’s close friend and colleague, who constantly reminds her she is not quite up to Alena’s cutting-edge standards. The storyline follows the mystery of what happened to Alena. She is presumed to have died while night-swimming off the coast of Cape Cod.

This book is a retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It has a similar gothic tone, but not quite as sinister. I particularly liked the way this story follows some of the main themes of Rebecca but does not adhere too rigorously, allowing it to stand on its own even if the reader is not familiar with its predecessor. Alena’s character is well done. Told in flashback, we get a feel for her artistic temperament and reckless lifestyle. The writing is full of metaphors, perhaps a few too many.

Our protagonist finds it is hard to live up to the ghost of near perfection. It is also difficult for a book to be compared to a classic. This novel does not quite get there, but I found it intriguing and entertaining. It will appeal to those that enjoy books that feature art, artists, and the sea. 320 HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS WAS A REBECCA RETELLING?!?!?! 320 A Pointless Tribute

Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again. With her first sentence, Rachel Pastan pins her colors to the mast: this novel will be a tribute to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, starting with this echo of her famous opening: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. It doesn't quite have the ring, does it? Reading the next four or five pages of lush prose, I began to feel slightly nauseous. I put it down to a sense of déjà vu, the half-remembered echoes of du Maurier's Cornwall clashing with the very different atmosphere of Pastan's Cape Cod. So I broke off in order to read Rebecca again, to get a clearer idea of what Pastan was working with.

That was a mistake. Pastan's opening remains faintly nauseating, not merely because it is overwritten, but because it has no organic purpose in the book. Du Maurier opens with a lush dreamscape because she has deliberately chosen a certain genre—the Gothic romance—as a container for the feminist polemic that forms her subtext. Pastan opens in lush romantic style for no better reason than slavish imitation of her model. And the imitation continues for at least three-quarters of the book. If you had the two volumes side by side (they are of similar length), you could almost turn to a page in one, and find the equivalent passage on the same page in the other. Page 15, that must be when she meets him for the first time; 60, this will be where he proposes; 95, she meets his sister; and so on to the big celebration that is the climax of both novels. Rebecca is, among other things, a mystery, and gradually-mounting suspense is an essential part of it. But when the imitation follows its model so closely, most of the suspense has gone for those that know the earlier book.

Both novels have a similar trajectory. In Rebecca, the nameless narrator comes as a young bride to the house of a rich older man, but is unable to escape the shadow of her brilliant predecessor, the Rebecca of the title, drowned under mysterious circumstances. The connection between the equally nameless heroine of Alena and her particular rich man, Bernard Augustin, is not the same, but the spirit of the dead Alena is equally present. To be fair, Pastan does take a slightly different direction at the end; the circumstances of Alena's death turn out to be more complex than Rebecca's, but by the same token less elemental, less shocking. And the author does have a cute twist up her sleeve for the final page—except that it gives no reason why the story should wrap around to the scene many years later with which the novel started.

There are three major differences between Alena and Rebecca. One is the choice of the Cape Cod setting. Here, when she is not trying too hard to pen purple prose, Pastan is rather successful; the salt-sharp air and occasional fogs come over with satisfying reality. The second is that she makes Bernard gay, so there is no question of a love-interest on his part. Nonetheless, our heroine finds a romantic attachment elsewhere, though this complicates things later on, and there is really no reason why she and Bernard should stay together when the story ends. Thirdly, the link between the two of them is that Bernard runs a private art gallery, and he engages our heroine (on a mere week's acquaintance) to take Alena's former position as curator.

The good thing about this is that it gives rise to a number of quite good scenes about art in general and the modern art world in particular, with emphasis on conceptual, performance, and body artists. Pastan knows her stuff, and there was a good novel to be written around it, if only she had not trapped herself in this particular form. For I could not believe the heroine's role in this for one moment. This is a girl who studied art history in a small college, worked as assistant in a minor museum in the Midwest, and who has never been to Europe, or even flown in a plane, until the book begins. Yes, she may have a good eye and be refreshingly free from cant, but the naive qualities that might intrigue a man making an impulsive choice of a wife simply do not cut it in the business of art. Being a curator, engaging artists, dealing with dealers and critics, all this requires a network of contacts that this sheltered young woman could not possibly possess. So even this—the one original thing that the book has going for it—fails totally on the grounds of plausibility. And without that, why bother? 320 ALENA is a reinvention or homage to du Maurier’s REBECCA, which was a restaging of Charlotte Brontë’s JANE EYRE. However, I never read REBECCA. I think that it was the reason I enjoyed ALENA more than readers who hold REBECCA in such high esteem. But, how many readers of JANE EYRE were negatively critical of REBECCA, if they read Brontë’s book first? I mention these considerations, as it may be a factor in a reader’s potential engagement with ALENA.

The Midwestern narrator, a young and naïve aspiring art curator with a natural eye for beauty, is offered a job by Bernard Augustin, the dapper, moody, wealthy, and gay founder/owner of an art museum on Cape Cod called the Nauk. They first meet at the Venice Biennale, and aligned over the exquisite art that he shows her in this ancient City of Masks and canals, and then the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. (Interesting that the climax of Rebecca, according to my research, occurs at a masked ball. There is no masked ball in ALENA, but it is in the City of Masks that the story takes off).

The Nauk museum sits on a sand dune, and has a gothic demeanor that progressively translates into a menacing presence. The museum has been closed for two years, since the mysterious death of the now enshrined Alena. Her death is manifested on the tragic face of Augustin, who rarely speaks of her. Our unnamed narrator will plan the first show since Alena’s death.

The prose is sensuous and narcotic, faintly erotic, and glimmers, like flashes in a fog, with vestiges of relics and ghosts. The emerging theme is how the absence/death of one person (Alena) can create a phantom ubiquity that vibrates more than the living and sentient. Even the fact of “unnamed narrator” gives Alena more substance than the woman who stepped in to her position! It implies the narrator as the ghost, rather than Alena. Or, at least, Alena’s paler shadow. The narrator is in the void, vacated by Alena, who lingers.

ALENA is also a scathing portrait of the self-serious and often pretentious contemporary art world, and paints a searing portrait of the elitist, provincial, and mysterious town of Nauquasset. Themes of dismemberment as a powerful reminder of the dead—or how the inanimate can come alive with its disconnected pieces—an earring, a boot, a stocking--—gives the novel an extra sinister touch. It is also braided into the worship of body artists, performance art, and others of the cultural vanguard. As the narrator describes herself:

“This was the knack, the disembodied voice that lived like a twin inside me…and at the same time isolated me, the subtle sentences a kind of sticky silk, cocooning me in a chrysalis of my own making.” And this thought arose before she appropriated Alena’s job at the Nauk.

The author’s sense of place is tremendously specific and ethereal at the same time, as is the eponymous Alena, the woman whose ghost inhabits every pore of the story. Perhaps another reason that I adore this book was locale. I spent many summers on Cape Cod (Massachusetts was where I was raised) and felt intimately familiar with Pastan’s luminous descriptions of the Cape—

“…curled out from the mainland like a beckoning arm,” and “the hushed, monotonous sucking like the indrawn breath of a beast, and then the distending roar of the wave building, breaking, shattering against the sand.”

And, to excite me further, Pastan illuminated Venice with a lush, sensory allure. I spent a week in Venice last year, and when Pastan conveyed this magical city in her lyrical, poetic prose, I was overcome with emotion. I knew the story of Saint Mark’s burial in Alexandria and how he was smuggled to Venice. I trembled to hear it again in this novel, and intimately followed the lunettes on the basilica illustrating the story in images:

“…dark domes, white Istrian stone, and figures in gold and green and blue…”

Art and death are fused together, personified into the perpetual specter of Alena, haunting Augustin, the Nauk, and the narrator.

“Alena…I began to understand that he never stopped thinking of her. She was the shadow in which he was always walking. Maybe he didn’t want to be free.” 320

In an inspired restaging of Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, a young curator finds herself haunted by the legacy of her predecessor.
At the Venice Biennale, an aspiring assistant curator from the Midwest meets Bernard Augustin, the wealthy, enigmatic founder of the Nauk, a cutting-edge art museum on Cape Cod. It’s been two years since the tragic death of the Nauk’s chief curator, Augustin’s childhood friend and muse, Alena. When Augustin offers the position to our heroine (who, like du Maurier’s original, remains nameless) she dives at the chance—and quickly finds herself well out of her depth.

The Nauk echoes with phantoms of the past—a past obsessively preserved by the museum’s business manager and the rest of the staff. Their devotion to the memory of the charismatic Alena threatens to stifle the new curator’s efforts to realize her own creative vision, and her every move mires her more deeply in artistic, erotic, and emotional entanglements. When new evidence calls into question the circumstances of Alena’s death, her loyalty, integrity, and courage are put to the test, and shattering secrets surface.

Stirring and provocative, Alena is the result of a delicious visitation of one of the most popular novels of the twentieth century on a brilliant and inventive novelist of the twenty-first. Alena by Rachel Pastan

Last night I dreamt of Nauquasset again.

Wait, what?

To be completely fair to Rachel Pastan, I don't know how else she was supposed to open a novel that's an updated version/homage/restaging of Daphne du Maurier's (masterpiece) Rebecca. I mean, you have to do the line, right?

But Manderley is vaguely poetic, mysterious, slightly sinister, and rolls easily off the tongue. Nauquasset sounds kind of like the noise you make when hocking a particularly stubborn loogie, and that comparison pretty well sums up the difference between the two novels. (Credit where credit is due, however: Pastan, by writing an updated version of one of the best novels of all time, has some iron-clad balls for even attempting this feat, and an extra star has been given to the rating in appreciation of her bravery)

I usually ignore offers to read and review Advanced Readers' Copies, but this one I couldn't resist. Like I said, Rebecca is one of my favorite books, and the publishers of this one made sure to include the quote where John Irving called it simultaneously creepy and entrancing. Good enough for me, I figured. Let's dive in. (reviewer's note: as the copy I read was an ARC, all quotes in this review may be slightly different in the final published version)

Once again, our narrator is a naive young girl (nameless) who goes to Europe with an older employer (in this case, the Venice Biennale and the head curator of the Midwestern art museum where our heroine works) and meets a sophisticated but mysterious older gentlemen who sweeps her off her feet but clearly Has Some Issues. Instead of a marriage proposal, however, the man (here named Bernard Augustin) offers her a job as the curator of a small contemporary art museum in New England. (In the novel's only really innovative diversion from the original text, Bernard is openly gay - a fact that, ultimately, doesn't make much difference in the story, because the romance between du Maurier's narrator and Maxim de Winter was always Rebecca's weakest element) At the museum - the, ugh, Nauk - the staff is still loyal to the memory of the last curator, a woman named Alena who...wait for it...drowned mysteriously.

Here's where we run into problems: anyone who has read Rebecca knows every twist in this story before they even start. Alena is , her death and...well, that's actually the extent of the twists. Pastan took some plot points out of the original novel and substituted her own - they include the narrator trying to secure an artist's work for the Nauk's reopening, and having a pointless affair with a cop. No disastrous costume ball here, folks. In fact, with the central mystery of who Alena really was and how she died effectively removed by my knowledge of the plot of Rebecca, I was left with a slightly plodding story of a girl trying to do a job that she is almost hilariously unqualified to do. I found myself wondering, why doesn't she just quit? She's clearly miserable, and it's not like there aren't other opportunities for her. In Rebecca, the narrator was well and truly trapped in her circumstances - she couldn't exactly sit down to breakfast with Maxim and say, This place is fucking creepy and I think your housekeeper is trying to kill me, so we should get divorced. But Alena takes place in modern day, and the social mores that constrained du Maurier's narrator don't exist in this setting. (speaking of the housekeeper, Pastan splits Mrs. Danvers into two characters: the museum's bookkeeper and her niece, and I have no idea why this happened, especially because the niece could have easily been replaced by a coat rack and no one would have noticed)

Pastan makes a last attempt to do something interesting with her version when she reveals the circumstances of Alena's death, and tries to up the ante by turning the death into and it's like the writers on CSI were sitting around at 2 am thinking, What's the dumbest way someone can get murdered? and this is what they came up with. .

The final nail in the coffin here is the writing itself, which is so crammed full of what my writing professor called purple prose that I could flip to any random page and find a gem like this: I'd thirsted for information about Alena the way a plowed field thirsts for rain, and now the first drops were scattering from the darkened skies.

Somewhere in here is a really good story about contemporary art and what it means to the people who work in that world, and how to be an artist in the modern day. But ultimately, Alena becomes the literary personification of the second Mrs. de Winter: Alena can't manage to escape the shadow of its vastly superior and more capable predecessor. It's unfair to Alena, of course, to keep comparing it to Rebecca - Rebecca was beautiful, compelling, and fucking crazy. Alena can't possibly measure up, but deserves credit just for trying. 320

”Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

”Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again.”

If you feel the electricity of a déjà vu moment from reading those lines, it is because you have just heard an echo that has been sent down the cavernous halls of a deep passage, and the words, in the course of travelling back to you, have been elongated into something slightly different.

This book was written as a homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book considered by many to be a masterpiece. The characters from Rebecca are here, still recognizable, but erased, smudged, spackled, and redrawn. The main character, nameless as she is in the du Maurier book, is an art museum curator at the beginning of her career. She, by a stroke of luck, gets a chance to go to the Venice Biennale, an Italian celebration of contemporary art that is scheduled every two years. She meets Bernard Augustin, a wealthy patron of the arts who owns a cutting edge museum on Cape Cod called The Nauk.

”Bernard Augustin crouched on the floor beside me in a mist-gray suit with a pale orange pocket square and a cravat. His pant legs were hiked up, and I could see his socks--oyster-gray silk, calf length. I’d never seen such beautiful socks in my life.”

One never knows when one will be leaning over an attractive young woman in such a way that reveals your socks. Always wear high quality socks or in the case of myself, today at least, interesting socks. They are of the Vitruvian Man by Da Vinci, and yes, in the proper circles they have created their own fair share of envy.

Yes, Bernard is Maximilian de Winter, and he has the same Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect to his personality. One moment he is the most charming man on the planet, and the next he is the stormy, moody, distant, unreadable man that becomes impossible to predict.

On what seems like a whim, he offers this young lady, currently employed as the go-fetch girl for her sick/hungover overbearing boss, an appointment of a lifetime. It has been two years since Alena has died, and Bernard, encouraged by his distance from Nauquasset and by the refreshing gleam in this girl’s eyes, wants to recapture some of his lost passion for art by bringing her back to Cape Cod to reopen his museum.

He throws her to the crows. Well, one really.

”She was large, tall and overweight, wearing a black, low-cut, calf-length dress. Her hair, an unnatural, glassy, pink-streaked black, made her pale face look even paler than it was, pale as a fish belly, or a scrim of frost. How did she manage that, living here? Her lips and fingernails were painted crimson, and her lobeless ears were studded up and down with holes, most of them empty except for the two long curtains of red stones and gold filigree that rippled and swung whenever she moved her head. A gold chain hung around her neck, disappearing down the top of her dress to lodge invisibly between her breasts, which looked hard and potentially dangerous, like a pair of torpedoes.

Always in black, always gliding about, and always squawking about Alena, Agnes is a colossally unhappy person, the punk rock version of Mrs. Danvers. She was the heels on Alena’s shoes. She was the strap on Alena’s bras. She was the zipper on Alena’s dress. Now and forever she would have to hold together the image of Alena by being the chronicler of her existence.

”She was talking about Venice. Every year it gets duller, Aggie, she said. The art world, more shiny and obvious. Oh, the artists are all so clever--they’d fuck with their brains if they could! She liked to say that--they’d fuck with their brains--it made her laugh. She’d had enough of the mind, it was the body that interested her. The art she loved--the artists she loved--were the artists of the body. Marina Abramovic, Catherine Opie, Carolee Schneemann. Art should be felt in the gut, she said. Art should scare you. It should take your breath--literally--away.”

Rebecca was beautiful, but Alena was reliant for her beauty on the intangibles that do not show up in the deceptive eye of a camera.

”She wasn’t beautiful. Her face was asymmetrical, as though she comprised two slightly different versions of herself, and her nose was sharp and bumpy, like a shard of rock. But there was something about her. Her black eyes glowed and her white neck stretched, lifting her pearly breasts slightly out of her black spangled dress. She moved with the self-conscious elasticity of a dancer, and her sharp mobile face drew the eye, as though she were a burning candle and the rest of the world were moths.”

Jack Favell, the disreputable cousin of Rebecca so deftly played by George Sanders in the movie, is reincarnated in this book as Morgan McManus, a performance artist obsessed with war and amputated body parts. He was in the first Gulf War, wounded in combat, and came back missing an arm and a leg. He has manufactured a closet full of artful prosthetics that he wears as if they are accessories rather than necessities.

”The arm itself was carved--or, more likely fabricated to look carved--in the manner of a totem pole, with strange squat figures in raspberry pink and turquoise stacked on top of one another. These figures had big staring eyes and peculiar limbs that, looking closer, I saw were depictions of the very limbs McManus was wearing--self-referential self-portraits, then, in a primitivist style, of a new race of prosthetic men. Each figure had a fat red quill slashed across the middle that I took at first to be a knife. But then it came to me that it wasn’t a knife at all but an erect phallus--a priapic animus--a defiant symbol of potency engraved into the inanimate limb.”

When something (I can’t tell you.) washes up on shore that has the police questioning the previous held assumptions of Alena’s death, McManus, just like his doppelganger in Rebecca, casts aspersions that force the investigator to make further enquiries of Mr. Bernard Augustin.

Our young heroine has been thrust into a situation that not only has nothing to do with her, but is almost impossible for her to fathom. She misses the Bernard that she met in Venice and is starting to doubt that the debonair and endearing Bernard ever existed.

”I must have known then, dimly, or suspected; not what he had done exactly, which no one could have guessed, but that he had done something. Like a swimmer caught in a current, I flailed in the tide of my dawning knowledge, unwilling to acknowledge or even consider the implacable, indelible truth.”

I was worried about the concept of this book, but it is so charmingly conceived that I soon relaxed and let myself be carried away by a brilliant plot once again. I found myself smiling whenever I would discover how Pastan had altered a character or had skewed a bit of plotting. If you haven’t read Rebecca, use this book as an excuse to read it and then read this book. The experience of one will be enhanced by the other.

My daughter, who is artistic, couldn’t help touching the cover of this book. The blobs of paint on the cover do look so realistic that your fingers expect to be met by the texture of paint. I’m curious to see if they will increase that illusion with adding ridges to the dust jacket. This book is scheduled for release on January 23rd, 2014, so those who wish to take my suggestion and read Rebecca before reading Alena have time to make that happen.

I think it was Rolling Blob or Standing Still Stoned Magazine that said my review of Rebecca “kicked ass”. Click to read the Rebecca Review

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This book, an homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, follows an arc that's very similar to the original story.

At the beginning of Alena the unnamed narrator, a young woman working as a curatorial assistant at the Midwestern Museum of Art, is attending the Venice Biennale (contemporary art show) with her demanding employer.

Venice Biennale

The narrator catches the eye of a refined, fiftyish, gay gentleman named Bernard Augustin.....

.....who runs a private museum called Nauquasset (The Nauk) on the Cape Cod coast.

Bernard is impressed with the narrator's 'artistic eye' and - just as the young woman is about to be spirited home by her ailing boss - offers her the position of curator of The Nauk.

Bernard then takes the narrator on a whirlwind tour of art capitals in western Europe before whisking her back to Massachusetts, where she's installed in a damp little house on Cape Cod.

The next day the young woman reports to her elegant office in The Nauk where she's introduced to her museum colleagues, all of whom act disdainful (or worse). In fact Agnes - the formidable, garish, black-clad general manager of the museum - is outright hostile.

We learn that Agnes was very close to the museum's previous curator Alena - a striking, raven-haired Russian woman - who disappeared two years ago. It's presumed that Alena, whose body was never found, drowned during a night swim in the ocean.

Though Alena is long gone, her assertive, colorful, larger than life aura still seems to permeate The Nauk. The narrator, by contrast, is self-conscious and retiring - almost afraid to ask Agnes a question, request desk supplies, personalize her office, etc.

Moreover Bernard, instead of helping the curator settle in, leaves town for museum business.

The Nauk, which has been shut since Alena vanished, is set to re-open. For her first big job the new curator is tasked with organizing a show for The Nauk's inauguration on Labor Day weekend, which is only a couple of months away. The Nauk employees assert that Alena promised the next show to Morgan McManus, a Gulf War vet who lost an arm and a leg. Morgan's 'body art' consists of raw images of bombed and mutilated corpses, casts of dismembered limbs, pictures of splattered brains, and so on.

The narrator is disturbed by Morgan's images and - despite pressure from Agnes and others - offers the opening show to a local African-American artist named Celia Cowry, who makes delicate ceramic shell sculptures.

Unfortunately, the curator fails to consult Bernard before booking Celia, which causes a mild kerfuffle. In addition Celia turns out to be a difficult, demanding woman....and The Nauk staff are a bit obstructive. Still, with a lot of hard work the show goes on.

During all this the narrator starts a low key affair with the local Police Chief, Chris Passoa, who investigated Alena's disappearance.

And.....(dramatic drum roll).....a new clue shows up that suggests Alena was murdered! Chief Passoa's renewed investigation leads to the book's climax, where we learn more about Alena's personality, art obsessions, and death. For me, Alena's story is too convoluted, and her demise too contrived.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I did enjoy the narrator's observations about art history, art appreciation, different kinds of art, the relationship of art to politics and race, and so on. For me this was interesting and educational.

On the downside, the book lacks the air of menace and danger that pervades Rebecca, where the heroine's life seems to be in danger.

Scene from Rebecca

Instead, The Nauk's curator has to deal with employees who snicker behind her back, give her snide looks, and (maybe) perpetrate some minor vandalism. Moreover, the narrator brings some of the grief down on herself. She wears a wrinkled travel outfit on her first day of work and has only one dress (a little black number) for all formal occasions. It doesn't seem to occur to the young woman to have her clothing, books, and other possessions sent from the Midwest.....nor does she do much shopping. In consequence the narrator presents a dowdyish picture in comparison to glamorous Alena.

The young woman is also unrealistically timid. Unlike the main character in Rebecca, the curator is an independent gal with some experience of the world - having attended graduate school in New York City and worked in a museum. I kept thinking she should be able stand up for herself.

Overall, the story is okay, though I'm not sure why an author would want to rewrite a classic. Nevertheless, people who haven't read Rebecca can enjoy this book as a compelling original story. And readers familiar with Rebecca might get a kick out of making comparisons.

You can follow my reviews at 320 Well I thought I would either love or hate this book, no middle ground, and I was wrong. I usually dislike current books made from classic and dislike when publishers trying to push a book will make those comparisons. In this case though, it is definitely the author who herself made the comparison with Last night I dreamed of Nauquasset again. No other way to take that. Rebecca it is.

Modern day, Cape Cod, Alena a curator at a private, small museum disappears. No one seems to know what happened to her. Our nameless heroine, so to speak takes the same position two years later after Alena had disappeared. Right from the get go everyone has something to say about Alena, compare to Alena, from office decorating to art work. So it goes.

Unfortunately this book had none of the Gothic feeling of the original nor even the suspense. It was, however, a good read on its own merits. If one loves art, the art history is very interesting, the personal relationships and the secrets people keep. So while it failed in some levels, it suceeded in others. A good read and would have been better without the high expectations of the comparison to a classic.

320 I say Brava! to the author for tackling a revisitation to the beloved classic Rebecca. Parallels are there, to be sure, but Rachel Pastan has certainly made this story her own. Bursting with color, the prose is lovely. Although the sense of dread is still there, it is not quite as imposing.

The author borrows freely from the animal kingdom in her characterizations. 'A blonde oppossum-nosed woman', 'a man with a bright terrier face', an artist 'with a scorpion nature', 'a tall red headed ostrich of a woman', eel-like fingers, possessive talons. In the art world, things are a little different. The showings are more an event at which to be seen than they are for the art being displayed. Air kissing, name dropping, 'hair every color of artificial', women 'held together by cosmetics and control top panty hose'. Love the myriad meanings of a 'sketchy diagram'.

One can pretty much match the characters here with those in Rebecca, but the variations on the theme are more than enough to let this novel stand on its own.

This was a First-reads giveaway, thank you. Loved it. Worthy of a second reading as well as inspiration to reread Rebecca. I was pretty much a kid the first go around, and I suspect it will be more appreciated now.


Free read Alena by Rachel Pastan