Book Review: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.

my-cousin-rachel-by-daphne-du-maurierType: Paperback, 335 pages

Publisher: Virago, May 1, 2013 (first published in 1951)

Original Title: My Cousin Rachel

Characters: Philip Ashley, Ambrose Ashley, Rachel Ashley, Signor Rainaldi, Nicholas Kendall, Louise Kendall, Father Pasco, Mrs Pascoe, Mary Pascoe, Seecombe, Tamlyn, and Wellington.

So, here I am, back again with yet another book review. This time, it’s of a mystery, Gothic romance set in Cornwall. Let me briefly tell you what the book was all about before I proceed with sharing my thoughts and opinions of the book.

My Cousin Rachel tells the tale of a young orphan boy by the name of Philip Ashley who became the sole heir of the estates, wealth and fortune that his older cousin, Ambrose, had left behind after his mysterious death while vacationing in Florence, Rome. Philip had suspected that Ambrose’s wife was the guilty party in his death along with the help of her dear friend, the surly Signor Rainaldi. Philip was pretty darn sure that all would have gone smoothly had it not been for his cousin’s failing health and a doctor’s medical advice for him to leave London due to the clammy weather. Ambrose had gone to Florence and would stay there until his health improved. During his stay in Florence, however, he met a distant cousin by the name of Rachel and within a short time, they got married. Much to Philip’s chagrin.

 Synopsis by Goodreads:

I threw the piece of paper on the fire. She saw it burn…

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will come to love his grand house as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two have constructed is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. 

In almost no time at all, the new widow – Philip’s cousin Rachel – turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?

The thing is, Philip did not have any proof of Rachel’s involvement in his death, save for a few disturbing letters that Ambrose had mailed to him over the course of his stay in Florence. And being the only one whom the letters were addressed to, Philip was the sole witness of his cousin’s suffering at the hands of their distant cousin. Anger and hatred boiled and bubbled in his blood, a deafening roar in his ears when he learnt of his cousin’s death. It made matters worse when Rachel had announced that she was coming to London for a while and possibly stay with either Philip or his godfather, Nicholas Kendall, for the time being. Philip could barely come to terms with his cousin leaving him for Florence, then getting married, and then dying without a trace or proof as to how he died.

It had been a rather intriguing story from the start, with me being thrust into the cobwebs of distrust, lies and deceit so early on in the book. Questions of how Ambrose died and who might have had a hand in his death had already flooded my mind, but it was too early in the first half of the book to tell if there really had been any clues leading to his death. One could clearly tell, however, that there were striking similarities between Ambrose and his young cousin and heir, Philip. Which sort of made me wonder if they were as innocent in the first place. Still, it had been too early to tell.

But as I carried on reading, I realised that while there were no indications as to whether Rachel was truly the guilty party or not, the manners of a petulant child were starting to arise in the form of the 24-year-old Philip Ashley. His actions as a gentleman left much to be desired. He was either blind to the nature of women, as Louise Kendall, his childhood friend and daughter of his godfather, puts it, or he was just a bull-headed boy with far too much ego. For someone approaching his mid-twenties, he sure was one hell of a spoilt brat! Perhaps, like Rachel had insinuated somewhere in the book, Philip just never saw enough of the world but really, some of the things he’d done in the book were just brought on by impulse. It made him appear naive and foolish.

Eventually, I got to a point where relief was just another 5 chapters to go before I was done with the book. I couldn’t wait, though, to find out if either Rachel was telling the truth or whether Philip had seriously gone out of his mind. A cloying young Englishman, spoilt, bratty and arrogant, acting like a child. I felt so tempted to reach into the pages and smack him upside behind the head. He was neither a man nor a child. He was, by far, the most foolish and idiotic person. Here’s another scene depicting his foolishness when instead of asking for a birthday present like any normal and sane person would do, he decides to give away his entire wealth and estate to a woman he barely knew. Nothing Louise said could break him out of his reverie.

Throughout the entire book, the reader would constantly question if Ambrose Ashley was to blame for his self-centeredness and arrogant ways and mistreatment of Rachel, or was Philip Ashley just to blind-sided to see things for what they are and not for what he thinks they are, or was their cousin Rachel really to blame for her treacherous ways. But one could question the possibility of whether she had done it in an act of self-defense or that she had planned on killing him for his vast fortune.

These were the questions for which even I did not have the answers to:

  • Did he really die from a mysterious illness to the brain?
  • Or was he poisoned as he believed himself to have been done in at the hands of Rachel?
  • Had Philip really planned on leaving Rachel approach death without warning her of the unfinished bridge?
  • And who was this Signor Rainaldi who never left Rachel’s side?
  • Was he the perpetrator behind Rachel’s plans?

After all the author had not made any assumptions nor given any conclusions. But she did leave enough room for her readers to constantly ask themselves, “Who was the guilty party?” It was left to the understanding of the reader.

By the way, did you know that the book, My Cousin Rachel, had also been made into a movie in 1953? Directed by Henry Koster, the film had starred Olivia De Havilland as the titular character, Rachel, with a very young Richard Burton as Philip Ashley. You can view the movie trailer here on YouTube.

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