Back in 2014, I reviewed what is one of my favorite novels ever – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. At the end of that review, I said that I hadn’t read anything else by the author, and likely wouldn’t because the book would never compare to Rebecca and I would thus be disappointed.
Recently, I succumbed to temptation, and read My Cousin Rachel, by du Maurier. I was definitely not disappointed. What an exceptional novel. I simply couldn’t put it down.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Nothing could compare the romance and intrigue of Rebecca, a book clever because the title character – who really is the main character of the story – is long ago dead and buried. The book also has one of the best opening lines of any novel: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. Mysterious, yet sublime, once you have read the novel.
My Cousin Rachel also has an intriguing first line: They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not anymore, though.
Young Philip Ashley comes to live with his cousin Ambrose as an infant upon the death of his parents. Ambrose – the master of an estate in the Cornwall section of England – is a good and loving guardian despite the fact that he is a confirmed bachelor. Ambrose and Philip are very happy together.
Ambrose is a confirmed bachelor, that is, until he takes a trip to Italy when Philip is 24 years old, leaving him to manage the affairs. He writes letters to Philip, telling him of his activities. Soon, he begins talking about meeting a distant cousin named Rachel. Via the letters, Philip learns that Ambrose eventually falls in love with Rachel, and they marry. But then the letters become further and further apart, until finally Philip gets a mysterious letter from Ambrose that implies that Ambrose believes he is being poisoned by Rachel. Philip travels to Italy, but it is too late. Ambrose has died, supposedly of a brain disease believed to have been inherited from his father. Rachel is nowhere to be found.
Philip returns home, deeply saddened and angry beyond words at Rachel. Eventually, Rachel comes to visit, and much to Philip’s surprise, he likes her very much. In fact, as the months go by, he becomes more and more attached to “my cousin Rachel” as he calls her throughout the book. And then mysterious things begin to happen to Philip as well…..
Du Maurier’s story telling is beyond belief. Her stories are creepy without being gory. The characters are multifaceted, the opposite of one-dimensional. Her plotting is creative without being silly. I forbade myself from looking at the end of the book (as I often do, I’m ashamed to admit), and didn’t. Yet, wanting to know how the book ends kept me reading late into the night. Like Rebecca, the house and grounds were almost a character. The author’s descriptions are vivid and allow the reader to feel like they are part of the story.
The ending was highly satisfying.
My Cousin Rachel is a wonderful book that I highly recommend, especially if you like gothic literature.