Alena by Rachel Pastan – A modern (and bad) retelling of Rebecca

  • TitleAlena
  • AuthorRachel Pastan
  • Genre: Mystery, Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Fiction
  • Publication Date:  January 2014
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • Rating: 2/5 stars


This barely drudges up the suspense and primality of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Described as an adaptation of du Maurier’s novel, Alena doesn’t come close to the depth and beauty of that marked Rebecca as a classic.

Alena tries to be mysterious, as a nameless young curator is given a job by the enigmatic and broodingBernard, the owner of the Nauk, a small art museum on Cape Cod.

Alena is the equivalent of Rebecca, a beautiful, alluring woman who has most everyone wrapped around her dead finger, including the main male character.

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.

The curator has a hard time living up to everyone’s expectations of her – because they’re always comparing her to the near-perfect Alena.

Rebecca is one of my favorite novels, and I was excited to the delve into this homage to it, but the book failed so much, from the characters, to the plot, to even the writing style. I couldn’t sink deep enough to feel myself cloaked by the story, as I did with Rebecca.

To be fair, du Maurier is a craftswoman, and very few could compare to her writing, and even trying to take on an adaptation of one of her best-known novels is bold and I applaud that effort. But the book has a diluted feel to it – like it only takes on the grays and whites of Rebecca and forgets to mix in the other colors that brought that book to life.

But in Alena, there is none of the menace that was in Rebecca, though Alena’s friends do try to fill that role towards the curator. Still, I never felt she was in true danger, even by Bernard’s hands. And I didn’t get the dark feel within the Nauk, or the town Nauquasset like you do with Manderly. It’s not the same opulence and dark beauty that Manderly draws you in with.

I didn’t get a good grasp on any of the characters, including the curator, and don’t understand what happens to her in the end. It seems like she’s writing about the past, and that she’s still in contact with Bernard, but I never truly learned or understood what happened to her. Even Alena’s death, once Bernard reveals it, falls flat and is lackluster – not at all the gruesome death I imagined.

Favorite quotes in Alena:

“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?” 

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