Author: Cassandra King
No. of Pages: 400
Genre: Romance, Gothic
Origins: Maiden Lane Press
Release Date: 3 September 2013
Bottom Line: Thrilling in the same vein as the book to which it is paying tribute
“Helen Honeycutt is just getting her life back on track after a bitter divorce when she meets Emmet Justice, an attractive widower still grieving for his late wife, Rosalyn. Their sudden marriage sets off a maelstrom of resentment and ill-will among Rosalyn’s family and friends. Hoping to mend fences, the newlyweds plan a summer at Moonrise, Rosalyn’s historic estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Moonrise is known far and wide for its unique nocturnal gardens, which have fallen into ruin since the death of its mistress.
Like the heroine of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic romance, Rebecca, Helen becomes obsessed by her predecessor, who lives on in her house and gardens and the hearts of those who loved her. Not only does Helen fail to measure up to the beautiful and accomplished Rosalyn, she doesn’t fit into her world, either, an elite enclave of well-to-do summer people. Even the gardens exclude her, since their secrets, passed down by generations of gardeners, died out with Rosalyn. When it becomes clear that someone in Rosalyn’s close-knit circle of friends is determined to drive her away, Helen wonders if she can trust anyone, even her husband. As the sweltering summer draws to an end, Helen must uncover the secrets of the past in order to establish her own identity apart from the woman she replaced.”
Thoughts: Since Moonrise is an homage to a beloved classic, it is not surprising that there are plenty of similarities between the two. Both have the famous house, a beloved first wife who died under mysterious circumstances, a second wife forced to bear the inevitable comparisons, questions about their marriage, and so forth. Yet it is in the differences in which Moonrise charms.
For one thing, the setting of Moonrise is much more appealing than Manderley. While the latter may be better kept and more atmospheric, Moonrise feels more welcoming to Helen as well as the reader for all its interior stuffiness. Even the famous gardens, now fallen into a shameful state of disrepair, have a charm about them that is missing on the English estate. The close proximity of neighbors and the general Southern hospitality of the area also help make Moonrise much more palatable and less gothic than its famous predecessor.
Then there are the wives. As she is several decades older when she marries Emmet, Helen has much more backbone and self-confidence than the second Mrs. de Winter ever has. Helen enters the relationship on a much more equal footing; she has been previously married as well and knows what it takes to create a successful marriage. Even better, she knows what she is not going to tolerate in any relationship. In addition, Helen has her own independence and a career that keeps her busy. Her relationship with Emmet is one of not only mutual attraction but also of respect and friendship. In essence, she has worldly experience that makes her a much stronger character and therefore one with whom it is easier to empathize than the mousy second Mrs. de Winter.
Ms. King mixes up the story and adds a layer of complexity by the use of multiple narrators. Seeing Helen’s arrival and introduction to life at Moonrise from other characters’ perspectives is a fascinating study on group dynamics and the various attitudes towards change. One gets a feel for not just the group and for Helen but also for Rosalyn and for the group before Rosalyn’s death. In addition, the theme of perception becomes a significant one. By allowing readers to see other aspects of the story not available to Helen’s first-person narrative, one can see how each character’s pre-conceived notions and perceptions lead to miscommunication, miscues, deliberate misdirection, and even false accusations. Seeing the full picture increases the tension and adds interest to what could have been a one-dimensional story.
Overall, Ms. King takes elements of the classic Rebecca and cleverly adapts them for her own purposes, creating a novel that is similar enough to draw comparisons but different enough to stand on its own merits, something it does quite successfully. In Helen, Ms. King creates a strong heroine with whom many a person can relate. The mystery behind Rosalyn’s death is not what one expects when first starting the novel, and the twisty path to the story’s conclusion is entertaining, frustrating (in a good way), and engrossing. For all of the money within the group, there is something homespun about each character which renders them less threatening and more relatable than other traditionally wealthy characters. Moonrise is fun but intense and a great balance of modern and Gothic elements that will please even the most hardcore Rebecca fan.