London writer Eleanor Moran's fourth novel, The Last Time I Saw You (Quercus), is a gripping psychological thriller that investigates the twisted roads a female friendship can travel. Inspired in part by the du Maurier classic, Rebecca, it is the story of two best friends from university, Olivia and Sally, whose relationship was destroyed by a shocking betrayal. When Sally dies in a car crash, Olivia is drawn back into the tangled history of their friendship—and into the arms of Sally's grieving husband.
In a guest blog post, Moran explains the universality of what she calls "Rebecca Syndrome"—the doubts that you can ever measure up to a past love.
I was a geeky, bookish 13-year-old when I first laid hands on a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the story of a nameless young girl who falls passionately in love with aloof widower Maxim De Winter, only to find that their marriage is haunted by the spectre of his dead wife, Rebecca. Even when I discovered Maxim was a murderer, who’d killed his first wife to protect his beloved Manderley, I still rooted for their relationship. It was partly because I identified with the second Mrs. De Winter’s dogged version of love: I’d grown up with a distant and unknowable father whose approval I fought an endless battle to win. But it was also because, even in my youthful naivety, I recognised the universality of her dilemma. Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love? In my head I call it “Rebecca Syndrome,” and it underpins my new novel, The Last Time I Saw You.
Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love?
In my early 30s, I found myself on the brink of marriage, a gnawing doubt permeating all the happy times. We’d been together three years, we loved each other, and I longed for the conventional setup I’d never had growing up. And yet . . . I knew it was wrong, that ultimately we wouldn’t make each other happy. The separation was messy and painful but ultimately loving. Now it was time to step into the unknown.
Having left single life behind as a twenty-something, I discovered that the thirty-something version was a foreign country that I wished I didn’t have a passport for. My ex sent his back immediately: he re-coupled within a few short weeks and, a few months later, announced he was expecting a child. Even though I’d initiated our split, I was cut to the quick, obsessing about this woman who had stepped so seamlessly into my onetime future. The crate of uncomfortable shoes I’d failed to take with me when I moved out of his apartment, the boxes of old magazines. Did those traces of our old life bother her, or did she simply dismiss them as no more than a practical inconvenience, a trip to the thrift store?
I soon got to experience the situation from the other side. I fell for a man who looked perfect on paper, but was consumed by court battles with an ex-wife he’d divorced years previously. He told me all about it on our first date, wanted it all out in the open, but over the coming months, I found myself wondering how thin a line it really was between love and hate. I would ask him what he’d loved about this complicated, mercurial woman, obsessively analysing his opaque replies. Words like “chemistry” could trigger a whole painful fantasy about chandelier-swinging sex. “The highs and lows” that he said characterised the relationship made me feel as exciting as day-old rice pudding. Were my anxieties paranoia, or warning bells? A gay friend, practical and optimistic, told me to pull myself together, pointing out that if you took my logic to extremes, I’d have to start seeking out 35-year-old virgins. I understood his logic, and yet the relationship couldn’t survive the haunting.
Livvy is left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
In The Last Time I Saw You, Olivia, my heroine, experiences the most extreme version of Rebecca Syndrome. When she gets the call to tell her that her onetime best friend Sally has been killed in a car wreck, she’s forced to re-examine their turbulent college relationship. Her friendship with Sally was a heady roller-coaster, until Sally betrayed her in the worst possible way. Sally’s widower reaches out to Olivia, desperate to get to the bottom of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the accident. But as feelings gradually develop, Livvy’s left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
I believe we have to grieve our “dead”—the relationships we’ve left behind—and then move on to the next with a heart that’s hopefully bruised but not broken. We just have to watch out for the partner who is still in the emergency room, claiming a clean bill of health.
Author photo by Ben Lister.