Book Review: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Why This Book

After reading Rebecca several years ago, I placed My Cousin Rachel, another of Daphne du Maurier‘s famed novels, on my To Be Read (TBR) shelf. Earlier this year, a Goodreads buddy, Michael, and I were chatting about various books when we decided to do a buddy read together, selecting this wonderful Gothic edition. We were both interested to see if it lived up to the hype and how it compared to the author’s other words. We agreed on early March and got to it this week. I’ve only started doing buddy reads in the last few months, but they are quite fun… I recommend them.

 

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Approach & Style

I purchased the Kindle Reader version from Amazon to read on my iPad. It contains ~350 pages and took me four days to read. The novel is written in first person point of view and told from the perspective of Philip Ashley, a 24-year-old English man set in a somewhat unknown time, but likely the early/mid twentieth century given some of the details in the background setting. The language is intense and full of amazing imagery and astounding descriptions.

Plot, Characters & Setting

The novel centers around the Ashley family. Philip’s parents die when he is less than a year old, but his cousin Ambrose raises him in their England home. At some point years later, Ambrose unexpectedly marries a widow named Rachel who is half-Italian and grew up in Tuscany. It’s an odd pairing, as she has a bit of a reputation for husband-hunting and spending lots of money. After ~2 years, Ambrose mysteriously dies and Rachel disappears. Philip is distraught, but searches for her in Italy. Rachel eventually shows up in England looking to meet her pseudo-stepson, and that’s when the story really begins to get interesting. There’s an air of darkness concerning Ambrose’s death–was Rachel involved? She has a suitor of sorts who follows her from Tuscany–yet both claim there is nothing but friendship. Philip intends to crucify his cousin Rachel after reading a few letters from his late cousin, Ambrose; however, things take a surprising turn when more secrets are revealed and there’s a bit of romance developing in the background. Add in a few traditional English families, an inheritance upon Philip’s 25th birthday, and a possible proposal to/from a neighboring family… and you’ve got quite a Gothic story unleashing it’s power on you.

Key Thoughts

  1. du Maurier truly engages the reader with lyrical and ethereal descriptions of everything going on in the story. You will feel like you are sitting at a table in the house watching everything occur around you. The super-fine details are what challenge your intellect to decide what is real and what is not.
  2. As a plot, it’s classic — did she or didn’t she kill him? But here’s the interesting part… that question hardly ever comes up in the book. It’s not a mystery in terms of researching the past to see if murder actually happened. It’s entirely psychological in the relationship between Philip and Rachel… where you listen to the words or what isn’t said, think about whether you trust either of them… and in the end, you just wish you could have spoken to Ambrose yourself to get the answer.
  3. I went back and forth multiple times deciding whether I liked Rachel and Philip as characters and as human beings. Humanity and kindness are huge themes in this novel. Attitude and disinterest are also keen to make themselves present within the relationships. Sometimes I wanted to throttle both, other times, the tenderness was admirable. The last few chapters truly push the envelope in terms of engaging more doubt before there is a final reveal.
  4. While reading the first ~75 pages, I was also editing my novel. I had on my ‘writer glasses’ and couldn’t stop analyzing the word choice in du Maurier’s initial chapters. It was disconnected and hard to attach myself, too. I also found a few words that were repeated a couple of times on the same page (a pet peeve for me in my own writing) and after the third or fourth, I slapped myself and realized it wasn’t important. 99 amazing words on every page and 1 every so often that didn’t work. That’s way too high of a percentage to ever get stuck! Stick with it past that initial 15% mark and you’re in for quite an intellectually stimulating ride.
  5. If you love Italy or the quintessential proper English culture and decor, you will enjoy this novel. The only thing that bugged me from time to time was not really knowing enough about Philip prior to meeting Rachel, so I could form a strong enough opinion on who he was as a person, i.e. before he became mesmerized by his cousin Rachel.
  6. My favorite part of the whole book… Philip ALWAYS refers to her as ‘My cousin Rachel’ until a certain event changes their lives… then she simply becomes ‘Rachel.’ The meaning of the novel is hidden in that ever-so-small alteration in their relationship and future.

Summary

du Maurier is quite skilled at creating scenery, characters, and undetermined truth. We really never know who to believe, even in the end. But it works. Whereas Rebecca was a stronger plot, I think My Cousin Rachel pushes the envelope more in terms of who should we believe. Either case, I really enjoyed the read, especially discussing it with Michael, who is an author you might want to take a look at (new book coming out in April ’18).  I plan to review the author’s bibliography this summer to see if there’s another potential novel of hers I’d like to read. Overall, I’d give this 4+ stars as I really enjoyed it, but there was some repetition and missing pieces so I couldn’t quite knock it up to a 5-star rating.

 

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
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52 comments

  1. Funny to see this review now, because I was just telling someone I wouldn’t mind rereading ‘Rebecca.’ I haven’t read ‘My Cousin Rachel,’ though, so since I don’t have time to reread books, maybe I’ll have to go with this one instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never read anything else by du Maurier but truly loved Rebecca. Sounds like a great read, Jay!

    Like

  3. This is such a good one! I love Daphne DuMaurier. Rebecca is one of my favorite novels of all time. I think the only one that I wasn’t crazy about was Jamaica Inn. Did you read that one?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve read most of her books and loved them all. I felt like I was actually there in the moment, as you said about the descriptions and the setting. There are many more to read for you! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Daphne du Maurier is one my favorite authors, and My Cousin Rachel is one of my favorites. When I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation, which was on Gothic literature and authors from the 18th century to present day, I devoted pages and pages to her and her books since her work has an essential place in the Gothic canon. If you like gothic, The Scapegoat is very much so! It is one of her later books, lesser known, and has more supernatural horror. It’s also a bit reminiscent of Rebecca in terms of theme. I did enjoy Jamaica Inn, but I read it when I was about 15 or 16, so I should reread it to see how I like it decades later. Rebecca was an obsession at one point; I reread it repeatedly, and I’ve read the sequels Mrs. DeWinter and Rebecca’s Tale. Funny, how a book and the characters capture your imagination that way! 🙂 I hope you find more of du Maurier’s works that you will enjoy reading in the summer (she wrote The Birds that the Hitchcock movie was based on although you probably knew that, and it’s much better than the movie, which says a lot since I’m terrified of birds!!).

    Liked by 2 people

    • I vaguely recall hearing that it was based on her novel, and I did enjoy the movie. Perhaps that should be my next read. I do like the Gothic sub-genre.

      When you find a group of characters you adore, it makes perfect sense to read them over and over again. I forgot your PhD was on this…. I knew it was in the realm, but not completely! How’s everything going there?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You might enjoy the book then! Her writing style is so lyrical and atmospheric; I love it. She detested her books being called romances, so The Birds definitely defies that description, lol.

        True; it was the same when I read Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Gone With the Wind!

        Oh yes, I’ve been spending a year researching Gothic literature, rereading a lot of my favorite Gothic novels (and some new ones), and the past 4 months writing, writing, writing! It’s an absolutely fascinating genre to explore (for 300 pages plus, I hope so anyway, lol!). I’ve especially enjoyed researching southern Gothic lit since so many of the stories I was told growing up have their roots in southern goth. Maybe when I sit down to eventually write my book, I should look at it from a Gothic angle, hmm…

        I’m not sure if you knew that I deferred enrollment this semester under my dr’s advice after my Lupus diagnosis, so I could focus on treatment, etc, so I won’t be graduating in May as planned, but I’m still researching and working my my dissertation as I can since I hope to start..and finish.. classes again in the fall. One day at a time, but I’ll get there 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Love, love, love du Maurier! So glad you had a chance to read this one. I see some mentions above about her short stories. They’re in a league of their own, very special. Great review, James.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It was fun to delve back into du Maurier with your review. I know I read several of her books and others in the same genre as a young lady. Your analysis was interesting; thanks for avoiding spoilers as I will probably read/reread it.

    Liked by 1 person

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