on July 28, 2006
"They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not any more, though...."
I'm a mystery writer, and Daphne du Maurier was one of my earliest inspirations. REBECCA is her masterpiece, followed by two other novels, THE SCAPEGOAT and this 1951 bestseller. The opening sentences of MY COUSIN RACHEL (above) are second only to the immortal opening line of REBECCA.
In 1840s Cornwall, young Philip Ashley inherits the fortune of the cousin who raised him, who has recently married abroad (Italy) and died under mysterious circumstances. Philip's pleasant life is disrupted by the sudden arrival of his cousin's beautiful widow, Rachel. Initially planning to send her on her way with a generous pension, he soon finds himself falling in love with her--even as he begins to suspect that she murdered his cousin and may be planning the same fate for him.
Rarely have I read a novel in which the tension and suspense arise almost exclusively from character. Who is this woman? What is she doing? How is the young hero going to respond to her? These questions have haunted readers since the book first appeared, and they will continue to do so for a long time to come. Reading the book again after all these years, I was amazed by du Maurier's plotting, her use of language, and the way she can create an atmosphere of foreboding that is almost palpable. Writers can learn a lot from this master, and RACHEL is a must for anyone who loves the very best in suspense.
PS: The 1952 film version, with Olivia de Havilland and an incredibly young Richard Burton in the leads, is also excellent.
on July 26, 1999
This book (and the 1952 film, with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton) have haunted me since I first read the book over 20 years ago. It's a mesmerizing and artful tour de force, building high atmosphere, suspense and intrigue - and using relentless ambiguity. Du Maurier (12 or 13 years after "Rebecca" - and in my opinion the added maturity shows in more complex characters, circumstances and moral nuances) masterfully spins her tale, weaving in vivid images of a warm and fertile Italy contrasted against those of a cool green England with an economy of description. A naive young man (Philip) in his early twenties, raised by and adoring of his bachelor uncle (Ambrose), is plunged into suspicion on news that his beloved uncle has suddenly and mysteriously died abroad soon after marrying a previously unknown cousin (you guessed it - Rachel) in Florence. Ghastly fantasies mount as Philip awaits Rachel's arrival in England. But she turns out to be a worldly woman of unanticipated charms, who turns young Philip's head entirely. Is she a villainous murderess? Or merely a world-wise woman torn by affection for a dashing much younger man, bearing a marked resemblance to her husband of so few months? Delicious issues are raised, including what are the moral constraints of a woman in a world which allows her few ways to financial freedom. Does the fact that a woman understands finance necessarily mean that she doesn't love a rich husband? Is an Italian woman with a mastery of healing herbs necessarily a poisoner? Can a world-wise woman who has long since lost her innocence nonetheless be captivated by the dewy youthfulness of a young man? And, as with all du Maurier, all of the events occur in lush and beautifully described surrounding events and places. I'm a big reader, and this is one of my big favorites!
on March 2, 2007
My Cousin Rachel is by Daphne du Maurier (288 pgs) and was written in 1951. There is something about the way du Maurier writes that makes it hard to put one of her books down. And this is no exception. From the opening sentence, I was utterly and completely enthralled!!
The story is told by Philip Ashley, a young orphan who was taken in to raise by his cousin Ambrose, a young man not much more than a boy himself. And it was just the two of them for many years. No women around at all....not even on the staff. There was never a need, when the men could get along so well without them! When Ambrose's health starts to falter a bit, he is pushed to spend the cold, damp winters in a warmer climate. Imagine Philip's surprise when, one winter, Ambrose writes that he has married a woman from Florence! Her name was Rachel, a widow that was struggling to survive the debt her first husband had left. Not only was Philip surprised, he was jealous. Ambrose had always been his and his alone. He never had to share him with anyone.
When Ambrose decides to stay in Florence to help settle some estate problems for Rachel, Philip is upset. And when Ambrose's correspondence starts falling behind, he even starts to get worried. About this time a letter arrives for Philip that is shaky and completely unlike Ambrose. Philip quickly decides to make the trip to Florence. Ambrose complains of being sick and is having doubts about Rachel, his torment. But when Philip arrives at the villa in Italy, Ambrose has already passed away, and Rachel has left the country. With revenge on his mind, Philip goes back to England to find he will inherit the entire Ashley estate on his twenty-fifth birthday, which is only 6 months away. No provisions at all have been made for Rachel, Ambrose's widow. This is just how Philip would have it, until the day that his cousin, Rachel arrives in England. She is not at all the type of woman he expected.
The thing about this book is that once you read it, you will have more questions than when you started!! Is Rachel the sweet, innocent angel she seems to be? Flirty, but naive? Or is she a calculating, evil temptress, who only uses men for her personal gain? And what about Philip? Is he driven mad by jealousy and obsession? Or is there something else at work? The ending is anything but straightforward, and the reader is left to his own to answer these questions. The mystery surrounding Rachel unravels slowly, but in such a way as to keep you on the edge of your seat. I actually liked this book far more than I did Rebecca, du Maurier's more popular work. Excellent, Gothic read for a stormy and dark night!!
on March 2, 2006
This book is about obsession, and how it can blur the line between reason and madness. I will forever wonder about the innocence or guilt of Rachel; she is a complicated enigma that will surely cause readers to reflect about her character, long after they have finished the book. At worst, she is a deceitful, conniving vixen who uses her charms for personal gain; at best, she is an endearing flirt who is too naive to understand the power of her charms on a young, inexperienced young man like Phillip. Because Phillip is the narrator, all of his motivations, vulnerabilities, fears, doubts and insecurities are fully explored, which makes for a fascinating mind journey. He seems to have as many flaws as his cousin Rachel does, and yet her innermost thoughts and feelings remain just out of reach. The four stars are because I felt the set-up for the ending was too convenient and too contrived. This complicated character study deserved more than its easy, predictable finish.
on December 23, 2004
DuMaurier's book, "Rebecca", is a must read. However, DuMaurier deserves be known for more than this one book alone. "My Cousin Rachel" is about a young man in England who cares for the uncle who has raised him. However, his uncle departs on a vacation to Italy and falls in love with and marries "Rachel." Without giving too much away, let it be said that our young gentleman has his concerns in regard to his uncle and this Rachel. But once he meets Rachel, he falls under her spell, as well.
It's a very fun book to do for a book club because you will have friends who believe Rachel's story and those who do not. It's also enjoyable to ask whether this story could be modernized and still ring true.
DuMaurier is an excellent storyteller. She utilizes very few characters and as a reader, you feel as though you are observing all which is taking place in the story. She's always excellent at making the setting become a real part of the story.
Again, even though this book does not equal "Rebecca" by any stretch of the imagination, it deserves to be read and will be remembered.
on December 22, 2006
My Cousin Rachel is one of my favorite books of all time. As I dived into its pages, I found myself being led through the emotions of the narrator. Daphne du Maurier wrote the book in such a way that every new emotion is perfectly believable--the narrator's reaction is real and understandable. I eagerly read on, wishing to know the truth behind the mystery surrounding the widow Rachel. Finally, I got to the end. It forced me to think and speculate. I had to draw my own conclusion from the facts--which, I think, is what partly made the book so unforgettable.
If you want mystery, an interesting plot, content for not only eating but digesting, or just plain enjoyment, you'll like this book.
Before reading this book, you must clear your mind of preceptions inferred by critics insisting that Du Maurier is a writer of romance. First and foremost, Du Maurier writes about murderers. Like Patricia Highsmith, she masterfully allows you to see through their eyes and feel all that they feel regarding the misdeed they contemplate or have already committed. As in most of her male-narrated fictions, you will find yourself so enthralled by the circumstances observed and described that you inadvertantly cheer for and empathize with a protagonist as immoral as Highsmith's Tom Ripley is ammoral.
Philip Ashley is such a creation. Here, you must depart from Richard Burton's 1953 movie version of this character---in the film of the same name, we watch a young and beautiful Burton pout and snarl rather than see the events through his eyes. In the novel, Philip is the product of a woman-free household. He is young, sheltered and almost churlish from his lack of society. Living on a large Cornish estate with his older cousin Ambrose, Philip is groomed in tradition--he will run the Ashley estate and become a magistrate like his cousin before him; he has no need for women fussing about him. In short, he has learned Ambrose's lessons quite well. Imagine his surprise when Ambrose departs for Italy and months later writes back to inform Philip and the staff at the estate that he has taken a wife--a half-Italian distant cousin, Rachel Sangiletti. Compound this surprise with letters received from Ambrose describing a deteriorating health punctuated with headaches, violent outbursts and an apprehensive distrust of his wife's frivilousness with regard to money. When Ambrose suddenly dies, Philip finds himself in a frenzy of his own; his target, the unsuspecting Rachel, newly-arrived in Cornwall with Ambrose's possessions. Prepared to hate her, Philip encounters a woman far different from what he expected. Like his mentor, Ambrose, Philip falls in love with her and similarly follows the road that Ambrose traveled where his misogynic training is turned on its ear. Only when Philip's rosy picture of Rachel is tested by actions Philip doesn't quite understand, does his world cloud with Ambrose's ingrained suspicions.
This novel truely unlocks the door to Philip's mind and emotions. We see only through Philip's point of view; Rachel, although the book is named after her, is a secondary figure--a shadow not quite comprehended by our hero.
This book is definitely recommended to all those who have enjoyed 'Rebecca'--I imagined Rachel to be like Rebecca, knowingly or unknowingly inciting their rather solitary men to committing acts of extreme violence. The wicked question Du Maurier leaves floating around in the reader's mind is this: Are Rebecca and Rachel evil women who justifiably are killed--- or ---are they just women who serve no other good function but to die?
on July 9, 2002
After seeing the movie (which is, for some reason, not available on video last time I checked) and reading the book, I recently listened to an excellent audiobook version of My Cousin Rachel, narrated by Jonathan Pryce. I actually like this story even more than Du Maurier's better known Rebecca. The novel is told from the standpoint of Philip, a self-centered and inexperienced man of twenty-four. It is a challenge to have a story told by a very flawed narrator, but it makes things more interesting if it's done well, as it is here. Philip was raised by his older cousin Ambrose, who dies shortly after marrying the mysterious Rachel. Rachel comes to the estate, which is soon to be in Philip's possession. He initially blames Rachel for Ambrose's death, but almost immediately falls under her spell. He is soon helplessly in love with her. The rest of the novel is a psychological mystery --is Rachel kind and generous or ruthless and conniving, as Philip first suspected? The genius of My Cousin Rachel is in its two primary characters, Rachel and Philip. The first is the archetypal mysterious, beatiful woman who may be either good or evil. Philip is also a complex and interesting character. Just as the reader becomes exasperated at his naivete and immaturity, we are shown that he is also capable of great love and devotion. His faults, we understand, are due to his background. My Cousin Rachel has a classically English gothic atmosphere (the setting is Cornwall), a la the Bronte novels. It is at once a mystery, a romance and a fascinating psychological study.
on April 12, 2004
An astonishing look into the mind of a reckless young man driven close to madness by jealousy and suspicion. Going even deeper than "Rebecca", this book explores the confusing shadow-play of modern romance and its darker side: obsession. The ending is perfect, leaving just the right questions posed and unanswered. I've read this book three times, and I'll surely read it again. Btw, the BBC did the perfect serialization of this book in the 1980s, with Geraldine Chaplin in the title role. How come this isn't available on video?
on April 5, 2003
My cousin Rachel is a brilliant read! Du Maurier is able to weave a tale with subtle plot twists that leaves the reader to wonder if Rachel was truly good or evil. The foreshadowing is thoughtful and goes nearly undetected. This is the hallmark of an excellent writer!
The style of writing in My Cousin Rachel is fluid and descriptive. In short, it is beautifully written. Although written many years ago, Du Murier's tale here is timeless. One is transported into the emotions and thoughts of the characters. Everyone can identify with the vivid depictions of loyalties, affections and doubts that plague as all in our own minds.
This is my favourite book by Du Maurier and believe me it does not disappoint.