Mrs. DeWinter #2 meets Maxim DeWinter while travelling as a companion along the south coast of France. 20 years her senior and apparently a man of ready means, he fairly easily proceeds to sweep her off her feet, marries her and takes her back to Manderley, where he installs her with little preparation, as the new mistress of the vast estate and essentially broods and ignores her and is generally mysterious for a large portion of the story (really he's just sulking) while she's bullied and undermined by the housekeeper, who had a not particularly secret passion for Mrs. D #1, and then our heroine is embroiled in the mysterious events surrounding Mrs. D #1's death. Then there's a fire. Because this is a gothic, so of course there is.
Reading this now was a different experience from when I first read it as a teenager. I had much more sympathy for Rebecca this time around, and even less for Maxim (and I never had much for him to begin with). He's so bland and weak and useless. Where was the attraction for either woman? Mind you, wife #2 is about as bland as you can get. If I were filming this I'd shoot it desaturated and film the flashbacks in vivid colour. As far as gothic's go, there are the obvious parallells to the Bronte's and it was a great step into the 20th century for the genre. It's very nicely written with all the conventions and atmosphere one expects from the genre, and that really fantastic opening "Last night I dreamt I went to Maderley again." De Maurier has a real gift for effectively creating atmosphere and tension in her writing and that makes for an enjoyable progression through the story.
Regardless of how my opinions of character and story may shift as my personal perspective widens and changes, this book is always going to hold a special place for me as it was my jumping off point into the "modern" gothics, Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, that I loved growing up.