Roll and thunder and hiss

Other people’s words about … the sea (again)

I could see the sea from the terrace, and the lawns. It looked grey and uninviting, great rollers sweeping in to the bay past the beacon on the headland. I pictured them surging into the little cove and breaking with a roar upon the rocks, then running swift and strong to the shelving beach. If I stood on the terrace and listened I could hear the murmur of the sea below me, low and sullen. A dull, persistent sound that never ceased. And the gulls flew inland too, driven by the weather. They hovered above the house in circles, wheeling and crying, flapping their spread wings. I began to understand why some people could not bear the clamour of the sea. It has a mournful harping noise sometimes, and the very persistence of it, that eternal roll and thunder and hiss, plays a jagged tune upon the nerves.

From Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is one of my favourite books. The unnamed narrator’s character — shy, very English, young, terribly lacking in confidence — is exquisitely drawn. The plot is an absolute cracker. And if you want to find out how to use short sentences to build suspense (and I mean short! sentences), read the last half of the book. I have never seen them used so effectively. Stop reading at your peril.

The sea looked grey and uninviting
The sea looked grey and uninviting

And then there is the sea. It’s almost a character in itself in Rebecca. Here in this quote, and elsewhere, the sea is a dark, brooding presence. We’re not talking sunshine and sun tans and happy childhood memories here. This is a sea that threatens and menaces, that fills the reader with a terrible sense of foreboding.

You know me by now. These won’t be the last words I quote about the sea. But honestly? I think they will always be, for me, up there with the best.

8 thoughts on “Roll and thunder and hiss

  1. For me, the most successful writers do write as if landscape and setting are characters, writers such as Thomas Hardy and Emily Bronte. Not that their writing is as satisfying as du Maurier’s in Rebecca. It is an amazing book.

  2. About 20 years ago, I was on a Daphne du Maurier reading jag and I remember Rebecca as quite haunting and a tad chilling. Yes, she does suspense very well!

    1. She does, doesn’t she? I think she is quite under appreciated — I can’t see why she isn’t considered a literary writer, at least with ‘Rebecca’.

      1. I agree with both of you. D du M is under-recognized. Whatever you think of her other novels, they all have beautifully configured settings and landscape. In Rebecca, setting and landscape function as part of the plot. The sea draws in the characters like a magnet, creating suspense, directly affecting their responses, and reflecting the differences in each of their characters.

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