Daphne DuMaurier is a master of dark intrigue. You may know her work from the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds which was adapted from her story by the same name.
I like to collect classics and count Dumarier’s work among them. So, when I found one of her books, My Cousin Rachel, at a thrift store, I snapped it up and plan to give it a place of honor on my bookshelves.
Though some of her works, such as The Birds and Rebecca were set in contemporary settings, there is a gothic feel to them.Locations are often mysterious or have a dark history, or some supernatural element is added. Dumarier likes to incorporate romance, but often they are ill-fated.
In the case of My Cousin Rachel, set during the 1800s, the main character, Phillip is the narrator. He’s lived under the guardianship of his older cousin, Ambrose, who has been like a father and Phillip looks very much like a young version of him. When Ambrose takes a journey to Italy in hopes of improving his health (he suffers from rheumatism), he meets Rachel, a captivatingwoman of English and Italian ancestry--who is also a distant cousin. In a matter of months they marry.
Phillip, who has always been close to Ambrose, impatiently awaits his return, but time passes and letters from Ambrose become less frequent and troublesome. All is not well between him and his new wife. When Phillip learns that Ambrose’s health has seriously deteriorated, he makes ahasty trip to Italy to visit him but finds he has arrived too late. Rachel, by that time has already left, unaware that Phillip has made the visit.
Not long after, Phillip returns home and Rachel arrivesa short while later. Phillip is determined to hate her and be hostile to her—blaming her for his cousin’s death, but the more he is exposed to her, the more enraptured he becomes. It’s almost as if he is bewitched.
Rachel treats him in much the same way she treated Ambrose, sometimes being affectionate and at other times distancing herself. It becomes a maddening game of cat and mouse, which slowly unhinges Phillip. To complicate matters, Rachel, who was virtually penniless and in debt when she married, and was not included in Ambrose’s will, seems obsessed with material possessions.
I won’t spoil the plot of this, but Dumarier masterfully portrays Phillip as someone both naïve and obsessed and it is the complexity of this relationship and of the enigmatic Rachel that makes the story so supberb The edition I have of this book is copyrighted 1952 and one can only guess how the book was received in its day because of its dark theme and the proprieties of the day. It would be deemed tame by today’s standards, but still it’s well worth the read. I had difficulty putting it down.
I give this 5 out of 5 stars.