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My Cousin Rachel: Film Tie In (Virago Modern Classics) Paperback – 4 May 2017
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She wrote exciting plots, she was highly skilled at arousing suspense, and she was, too, a writer of fearless originality (Guardian)
No other popular writer has so triumphantly defied classification . . . She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied the exacting requirements of "real literature", something very few novelists ever do (Margaret Forster)
From the first page . . . the reader is back in the moody, brooding atmosphere of Rebecca (New York Times Book Review)
Du Maurier is a storyteller whose sole aim is to bewitch and beguile. And in My Cousin Rachel she does both, with Rebecca looking fondly over her shoulder (New York Times)
About the Author
Daphne du Maurier (1907-89) was born in London, the daughter of the famous actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and granddaughter of George du Maurier, the author and artist. In 1931 her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published. A biography of her father and three other novels followed, but it was the novel Rebecca that launched her into the literary stratosphere and made her one of the most popular authors of her day. In 1932, du Maurier married Major Frederick Browning, with whom she had three children.
Many of du Maurier's bestselling novels and short stories were adapted into award-winning films, including Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now. In 1969 du Maurier was awarded a DBE. She lived most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books.
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This is a compelling, atmospheric novel, typical Du Maurier, which I first read years and years ago, and wanted to re-read when I heard that there was a new film. It is set in an unspecified past where there are carriages, candles and communication by letter. From the start you know that it isn't going to end well; and you find yourself despairing at the idiot boy Phillip who doesn't see what is in front of him. Listen to Louise! For the people who say that the ending is abrupt and does not say what happened to Phillip, just re-read the first chapter!!! But the real question, posed at the beginning and not answered is - was Rachel innocent or guilty?
It is told in the first-person by Philip Ashley, who has been brought up, happily, by his cousin Ambrose in a large house in Cornwall. Ambrose's health is poor, so he winters overseas. On one of his trips he meets another cousin, Rachel, in Florence and they marry. Ambrose's letters to Philip are initially very happy, but soon darken, partly because of Rachel's extravagance, but also because he fears (perhaps irrationally or possibly because he has fallen ill) he is being poisoned.
After Ambrose's death, aged only 43, allegedly of a brain tumour, his widow Rachel, who has not been provided for, makes her way to Cornwall to see Philip.
Before her visit, Philip, having been jealous of her, was determined to punish her for her part in Ambrose's death, but he soon falls under her spell, indeed, he is besotted.
Their relationship is intense and Du Maurier takes us through the full gamut of emotions, posing the question, again and again, is Rachel good or evil? Even at the end of the book, we can't be sure. Nor do we know what happens to Philip, although the last sentence is ominous.
The author has put us through the emotional wringer and left us suspended in mid-air, not a satisfactory way to end a beautifully written book containing such a high level of emotional observation.
But talk about a rollercoaster of emotions! I loved Philip as a young boy and my heart went out to him when Ambrose left him behind in England and I felt for him even more when Ambrose married and later died. That poor boy.
And when he hated Rachel [even though he hadn't yet met her] I was right there with him. I wanted him to best the ruthless gold digger and out her for the shameless user she was.
And then when he met her and she wasn't the two headed Catherine Medici type I had expected and he grew to like her....so did I. For a while.
But then, when she started brewing him a nightcap every night and we learned about her spending habits being reckless I started to hate her again - but Philip didn't notice that his original opinion of her might actually have been correct and he grew more and more puppy like in his devotion to Rachel. But was his devotion warranted, and was my suspicion of her misplaced?
Now I started to get angry at him and hate him a bit as well! Especially when the letter in the book was discovered and the hidden letter in Ambrose's coat. When Philip STILL defended Rachel to all his friends who had urged caution I wanted to shake the silly boy!
Obviously I won't reveal the ending, but this book really has your emotions churning. Is she a gold digging harridan who poisoned Ambrose and was poisoning Philip too? Or was she just a woman who liked expensive things and was useless at managing money? Did she love Ambrose and Philip or was it just their money she loved?
That's for you to decide when you read it for yourself. Which I heartily recommend you do.
Phillip's antagonism is transformed by the elfin Rachel who is after all, '..middle-aged. Quite thirty-five.' His repeated mantra of loathing of 'my cousin Rachel' transforms to an adored Rachel in which, as a loved-up little puppy, he completely throws away his heart and his throne to the new Queen Bee.
The novel deliberately begs dozens of questions many of which are left up in the air, which is either frustrating, or intriguing, depending on the reader. Rachel is either a manipulative bitch or a tortured soul but above all else she proves to be in control in a supposed man's world. Phillip is reduced to contemplating 'throttling' her as the only way out.
The style is interesting. It is excellent story-telling. Slight question about the dialogue; it's as though Jane Austen was being used as the verbal coach. Also the early chapters end with a dastardly 'de de derr' flourish which is slightly comic.
With hindsight I don't know whether I liked Rachel or not but she is certainly ahead of her time and as a result the novel is edgier than you'd expect. A surprising treat.