My Cousin Rachel
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier.
Post by Jenni.
Deliciously suspenseful and ambiguous, this is a fabulous exercise in uncertainty, employing the unreliable narrator as a tool for our doubts.
Philip is a limited, misogynistic, sheltered young man of 24 who has lived with his confirmed bachelor uncle, Ambrose, all through the life he remembers, in the same house, peopled only by male servants, with only a short break to go to male dominated schools and colleges. He has never willingly travelled, and never left England.
When Ambrose leaves for health reasons to avoid the winter in England and live in Italy for a season, he falls in love with the mysterious Rachel, and marries her, intending to bring her back to the estate to live, exciting feelings of jealousy and hatred in Philip. But Ambrose starts to send worried letters, prompting Philip to hastily depart for Italy, arriving just in time to discover news of Ambrose’s death. Hereditary brain tumour or poisoning? Accident of fate or murder? Philip returns, with his doubts, to the Estate, his now, Ambrose having strangely made no provision for his widow in his will, she apparently troubled by debts.
Eventually Rachel turns up at the Estate in England, and Philip’s feelings change violently as she disarms him at every move, from animosity to amorousness, to the rising discomfiture of his acquaintances and the reader.
All along, the reader is unsure what to believe – is Rachel the pining widow or the wicked witch who killed Ambrose- is she deliberately ingratiating herself into Philip’s house and affections, or is she simply a delightful, ill-starred innocent, as Philip believes?
The suspense is masterful, the conversations between characters artfully drawn and elegant, and this novel is a fantastic balancing act which manages to keep the reader on the uncomfortable but intriguing razor edge of uncertainty all throughout. My favourite of du Maurier’s novels, this is a masterpiece of unease, elegantly classical in style, and enviably subtle in execution.