Monday, September 11, 2006

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

I dried myself as best I could upon my shirt and walked up through the woods, back to the house. The moonlight made a ghostly path for me, and shadows, eerie and fantastic, lurked behind the trees. Where my path divided into two, one taking me to the cedar walk and the other to the new terrace above, I heard a rustle where the trees grew thickest, and suddenly to my nostrils came that rank vixen smell about me in the air, tainting the very leaves under my feet; yet I saw nothing, and all the daffodils, leaning from the banks on either side of me, stayed poised and still, without a breath to stir them.

While not the exact image of the copy I own, this image comes closest to my book's cover as it shows the large estate on the Cornwall coast which served as the setting for My Cousin Rachel.

In My Cousin Rachel, Philip Ashley tells the story of how his guardian and cousin, Ambrose, has come to raise him as a single man and then for three years wintered in Italy at the advice of his doctors when rheumatism sets in. In his 40's and never previously interested in the concept of marriage, Ambrose is captured by his charming cousin, Rachel, when he meets her in Florence. They are quickly married and Ambrose describes their new life glowlingly in his letters home to Philip. As time goes by, though, the letters develop an ominous tone. Ambrose has become very ill and is either paranoid or seeing his wife in a new light. In his final letters, he begs Philip to come rescue him from the Villa Sangaletti, where Rachel lived with her previous husband, who was killed in a duel. He says Rachel, "my torment", has finally done for him.

When Philip finally arrives in Florence, after an arduous journey, he finds that his beloved cousin Ambrose has died and Rachel is gone. Eventually, Rachel turns up in England and from then on the question always hangs in the air, "Is she a poisoner, an evil woman after Ambrose's money and estate or a woman who cared and tells the truth?"

The end stunned me. But, I have to admit it was slow going for a while. I really enjoy du Maurier's writing because it's stylistically beautiful, suspenseful, and suitably spooky. But, I tired of young Philip's stupidity. At 24, coming into his inheritance on his 25th birthday, Philip acted like a spoiled brat. To say much more would, once again, spoil the book for those who haven't read it. And, upon closing the book I had to admit that the ending was just perfect in a way, although it left me with one rather crucial unanswered question (for which I suppose I can decide my own answer). Even though I got annoyed about 2/3 of the way through and peeked at the ending (something I almost never do, unless I'm concerned that the ending will be hugely disappointing) and therefore knew what was to come, I didn't know why or how. So, it still surprised me.

Still not my favorite du Maurier, though. I've read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman's Creek, and The Scapegoat prior to digging into this title. Of those, Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek were my favorites, Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel probably next, and I felt very let-down by The Scapegoat. But, still, I stayed up late reading. So, heck, I guess it was pretty good, eh?


Scratch two off my R.I.P. challenge list!

Still reading: 36 Views of Mt. Fuji
Started: An Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell
Up Next: Haunted by Heather Graham


  1. You peeked?!! ;) I haven't read any by du Maurier and think I'll pass on this one in spite of your fairly high rating. You certainly have read quite a few by her. Which is your favorite?

  2. Yeah, I peeked. I do that once in a blue moon - only when I think I'm going to be horrified by an ending.

    My favorites are Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek but I'd rate Rebecca over FC because the latter is a little more fanciful, kind of swashbuckling fun but not necessarily typical of her writing and a little less believable, I'd say. I was surprised when I realized how many of her books I've read!

  3. Hmm, I may give Frenchman's Creek a try before Rebecca since I've seen the movie and rarely ever read a book after seeing the movie.

  4. Scratch TWO off?! I'm so jealous. I've spent so much time on Lonesome Dove I'm wondering how to classify a Western as an eerie autumnal challenge. Do you think we can take until Halloween to fulfill the goal?

    By the way, I don't think anything can compare to Rebecca. Like Presumed Innocent, that book really threw me, even though the first time I read it I was only 17.

    Actually, the character Rebecca reminds me a bit of Xenia in The Robber Bride (by Margaret Atwood). Has any one read that? I'd love to discuss that one, too!

  5. Les,

    I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen a movie version of Rebecca. Hmm, can't remember. I should say don't judge the book by its movie; Rebecca is one of my all-time favorites.


    I think I'm the only person in America who lived through the 80's and missed Lonesome Dove, so even if it's an eerie western I'm clueless. LOL I'm guessing . . . probably not. The challenge does go till Halloween, doesn't it?

    Funny you should mention Presumed Innocent; that's the only other book besides Rebecca that surprised me so completely that my heart pounded. I haven't read The Robber Bride, yet. Atwood's one author I've missed, but I've got a couple of her books. I've probably stubbed a toe on one of them at least once.

  6. I read both Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek a number of years ago. Enjoyed them both (especially Frenchman's Creek - I love a bit of swashbuckle). Haven't read Cousin Rachel but I think I have it somewhere. It sounds like it's worth a try.

  7. Oh I loved Rebecca. Such a great book.

    I wasn't sure which du Maurier to read next, but now I'm leaning towards this one or Frenchman's Creek. Great review!

  8. Ex Libris,

    I love a bit of swashbuckle, too. Some other swashbuckling favorites of mine are The Three Musketeers and The Scarlet Pimpernel. I felt a little impatient with My Cousin Rachel, but in the end I felt like, "Hey, that was pretty good, after all." I didn't think I'd say that for a while, though!


    Can't wait to hear what you think, regardless of which du Maurier you choose!! You already know which one I like best. :)

  9. I like your blog. You might want to check mine out. You may or may not like what I write. I think our favorite [reads] are very personal.


  10. Who can forget Rebecca? de Maurier has us enthralled in all her books.

  11. Thanks for visiting, Patricia!

    I agree, what we read is very personal. But, I'm always willing to try new things!

  12. I grabbed a book called Classics of the Macabre by du Maurier today at the library. It has several short stories in it, one of which is The Birds. Can't wait to start it!

  13. Gautami,

    Thanks for visiting!! Rebecca is definitely an unforgettable book; it's a rare book that catches me so completely off-guard.


    I'll be watching for your review!! I've tried to locate more du Maurier books locally (including the Big City of Jackson) and was stunned - they had about 10 different versions of Rebecca when I last looked and that was it. Weird - she should have an entire shelf of her own.

  14. Thank you for the nice review! I have never read "My Cousin Rachel" and I read "Rebecca" so long ago that it begs for a revisit. Thank you for reminding me about Du Maurier, I'm in the mood to revisit some of the books I read as a young woman, and I will definitely have to put "Rebecca" on my list.

  15. Lotus,

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed the review and you're welcome for the reminder of du Maurier. I've been yearning to do some rereading, myself, although there are so many unread titles calling to me that I don't know if I'll get around to doing so!

  16. Coming late to the party here, but I completely agree with you about this book! Her writing's lovely, I liked the story, but I got so fed up with Philip it was hard to enjoy the book altogether. :)

  17. Jenny,

    You know, it's really interesting. I couldn't have told you a thing about this book, apart from the fact that it wasn't my favorite, if you'd asked me earlier today. Now, I have little images in my head (after rereading my own review) -- I can visualize the setting, for example. But, it definitely was one of the least memorable Du Maurier books I've read. Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, The House on the Strand and Frenchman's Creek have really stuck with me. I do love her writing. :)


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