A screenwriter’s assistant, naïve and hapless, falls for a wealthy Frenchman in Cannes.
Brown (Owning It, 2017, etc.) lets us know from the start that this is a contemporary retelling of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. But what dates the narrative, apart from the prudish heroine, are constant references to studio-era Hollywood, with the occasional mention of contemporary actors only highlighting the novel’s peculiar dustiness. Perhaps in further ill-conceived homage to last century's gothic genre, the heroine, Manderley, is a teary-eyed, put-upon orphan. She is also clumsy and has a tiresome inner life and limited language skills. The last is particularly odd since she has a degree in literature and is praised for her way with words by the hero, Xavier de Maloret. He is equally flat, appearing without explanation every time Manderley is in danger, spilling something, or stumbling. He also broods in five-minute intervals between taking her on long drives and kissing her ears and neck. Their monthlong acquaintance involves almost no other sexual intimacy, and after they elope, she is panicky about the wedding night. The attitude makes little sense in a contemporary romance with a 20-something who works in the movie industry; perhaps it should have been a time-travel romance where a sheltered Victorian woman is dropped into the modern world? This could have justified a conversation in which Manderley says the fight for women’s rights has been detrimental to them. On the plus side, it distracts from other problems: the hero’s annoying repetition of the endearment “ma bichette,” the heroine’s casual mention of servants when she was growing up in her antebellum-era house in the American South, Brown’s wholesale retaining of Du Maurier’s misogynistic portrait of the hero's first wife, and her labeling of a bad guy as a Romani/gypsy.
A blend of clichéd Euro-travel brochure, celebrity fan fiction, middle school French lesson, and cultural obliviousness, this neogothic provides zero thrills.