An excellent homage to a classic and a strong story in its own right.
Feature image credit: Simon & Schuster
Last night I dreamed I read du Maurier again. At least, that’s the premise of The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor. Partly a retelling, partly a reboot, and partly a homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Fiction Writer is a very good novel in its own right, with enough twists and turns to please any reader of contemporary crime fiction.
The story opens as Olivia Fitzgerald, a young novelist on the decline, is offered the unenviable job of ghost-writing a book for one of America’s most eligible bachelors, Henry Asherwood: billionaire playboy and heir to the Asherwood retail fortune. Olivia’s first instinct is to turn him down, but she learns the story will be about Henry’s grandmother and the family rumour that she wrote Rebecca, and that du Maurier stole it. Olivia is a huge fan and scholar of Rebecca, having even written a novel herself set from Rebecca’s point of view. She leaves Boston for Malibu, to find Henry Asherwood riven with angst about the death of his first wife, angst perpetuated by his housekeeper.
If all this sounds familiar, don’t worry—it’s supposed to. It’s the set up for a near-perfect novel of lies, love and betrayal as Olivia sets out to determine what really happened to the first Mrs Asherwood.
The parallels between The Fiction Writer and Rebecca are very obvious, and Jillian Cantor uses this to great effect, taking us down paths that seem familiar, using du Maurier’s narrative to foreshadow her own. Therein lies the novel’s greatest strength, but it is also a weakness. Anyone who hasn’t recently read Rebecca may feel that things happen “just because,” and find themselves a bit lost. A fan will begin to second-guess the plot elements as they occur where the uninitiated may simply find it all a bit odd.
It’s a good thing then that Jillian Cantor is an excellent writer with a firm grasp of plotting. The book contains several narrative streams, from the first-person point of view of Olivia and others. Through the book we see excerpts from another book, which seems to be the lost manuscript Olivia is searching for. But is it? Jillian Cantor builds her story by weaving these threads together in the best mystery tradition, being selective with what information she divulges and always feeding everything out slowly.
The Fiction Writer is a fantastic book for fans of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and for readers of contemporary crime. Most definitely recommended.
Reviewed by DC White
The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.
Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: December 2023