Last night I finished reading My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier. It had been at the top of my to read list for the past several years, but I never got past the first several pages until last week, which is strange, because the first several pages are almost as gripping as the first pages in Rebecca, one of my favorite classic novels.
My Cousin Rachel begins in a place similar to Rebecca, with an orphan and a gothic, almost sinister, undertone. If I hadn’t been expecting great things already judging by the woman who wrote it, I definitely was after the first chapter, and I think ultimately this is what led to my disappointment in the novel.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young man named Phillip who was raised by his cousin Ambrose. When advised to winter away from his damp home in Cornwall by his doctor, Ambrose goes south to the continent of Europe. He goes to Italy where he meets and marries his cousin Rachel. Having been a bachelor all his life, this comes as a great surprise to Phillip and their friends in Cornwall. The marriage seems to suit him until Phillip begins to receive odd letters from his cousin, and before he is able to see Ambrose again, he is dead. Did his new wife have something to do with it? How will Phillip behave once he finally meets this mysterious cousin? What about this woman caused a lifelong bachelor to finally ‘take the plunge’?
This novel lacked the feeling of suspense that I adored in Rebecca. There were no twists, no shocking revelations, and honestly once I set it down for the last time I was left wondering what the point of the book had been. I’m not saying it wasn’t compelling or well written, because it was, but there was never the sense of satisfaction in the end for me. After such a kick ass beginning, I expected more. I gave it three stars on goodreads because it is quite an entertaining book, I just took issue with the ending – it left things unresolved for me. I’m having the same issue with the ending of Gone With the Wind (I am still working on a post for that one).
For those of you who have already read it, here is a little more detail of what I thought of the story::
The beginning is excellent. It sets the tone beautifully and anchors the story in a gothic mood. The plot set-up is also perfect – a man meets a woman, marries her, has a crisis that leads to his death, and his family is left to wonder/discover whether or not this mysterious woman had a hand in it. I mean, that’s got to be an excellent story, right?
I felt like I was turning pages in order to find out if Rachel had really had any fault in Ambrose’s death or not. Since I still don’t know for sure it just feels unfinished. I feel like the story leaves off in exactly the same place as it was after the first few chapters of the book. In the end, none of the plot really changed anything in the character’s lives. I guess I was expecting something equally mysterious and scandalous to happen to Phillip once Rachel came to town, but the only thing that happened is Phillip absolutely losing his mind in love and sabotaging himself. And yet, he wasn’t really sabotaged after all. It’s like everything that happened had the ability to be a complete disaster, but in the end Phillip is left exactly as he was after Ambrose’s death, a wealthy bachelor.
There was a looming mystery as to what Rachel’s big fault was, and all it turned out to be was a shopping addiction (who doesn’t know someone like that?). There was the giving of the estate to Rachel, and what changed for Phillip? Not a thing, except Rachel’s attitude was a bit colder (but that’s because he is a fool who expects her to marry him). There was the death of Rachel, but even that was unsatisfying. Did Phillip intend to let her die that night, or was he so preoccupied with his own mission that night that he completely forgot there was any danger in the garden? For me, it seemed like the emphasis kept falling on things that didn’t matter, and the things I was really interested in were only briefly mentioned.
In my group on goodreads, everyone seemed to agree with the implications at the end, that Rachel had been innocent the whole time and that she had done nothing wrong. But how can that be? Did he not find the poisonous seeds in her drawer? …..hello!? Was that just another figment of his imagination? …or mine? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!
This story just wasn’t for me in the end. I still adore Rebecca, and I for sure haven’t sworn off du Maurier by any stretch, but this one just didn’t sit well with me. However, it will be lingering in the back of my mind for quite some time, I’m sure. And maybe that was the point after all.
If you’ve read My Cousin Rachel, please share your ideas with me in the comments about your theories. This is a book that begs to be discussed!