Thoughts on My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelLast 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?

Eh.

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!

E.

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the second Sherlock Holmes story I have read (the first was The Hound of the Baskervilles), and I have to say I remain surprised by the way they read. I suppose it is the enormous fame of the characters, the familiarity with which I felt I had with them before ever reading one of the original stories that set me up for the subtle shock they’ve given me. And at the same time I’m not surprised at all; having read Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, I was already familiarized with his writing style.

Sherlock Holmes Pipe

The Sherlock Holmes stories are very different from what you may think of as a detective or mystery novel today. If you read a modern mystery novel, subtle clues are laid out for you and persuasive writing leads you to a certain conclusion by the end of the story. A good mystery will probably have left other clues you were unaware of that will satisfy a twist ending you weren’t expecting. This novel is not like that. There are clues, yes, but goaded by questions from Dr. Watson, generally they are explained quickly and thouroughly by Sherlock Holmes leaving the reader wanting for the grand finale type reveal at the end. There is explanation at the end, a final run through if all clues and deductions in the case, but it felt very anti-climactic for me.

The other thing that surprised me about this novel was the sharp change in setting in the middle of the book. With no warning at all, suddenly you are reading a completely different story. I actually stopped the book and went on goodreads to make sure my audible download hadn’t messed up somehow. One moment you are in the thick of the investigation (the supposed bad guy has been captured!), and the next you are on another continent as an old man and a young girl are rescued in the desert by the Mormons…..it was jolting, and it didn’t make sense until much later. I am still on the fence about how effective it was. After the story was all said and done I did really enjoy having all of that background knowledge that explains the murderer’s motive intimately, yet I think it could have used a transition to anchor the reader a little bit. Perhaps if I had been reading a physical copy it wouldn’t have been so bad, that is a possibility.

Speaking on the characters themselves and the set-up of what has turned out to be an infinitely famous crime-investigating duo, I was pleased enormously. The book is written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, I believe the reader is to believe the words have been taken from his journal. It opens with the explanation of Watson’s history as a doctor with the British Army, and how he ended up in poor health recovering in London. On a search for a flat mate, he is introduced through a mutual acquaintance to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. After finding one another agreeable, they move in together. Watson is unsure at first what Mr. Holmes’ occupation may be, it is the first mystery of the novel, and once he discovers he is a consulting detective he is endlessly fascinated and becomes a tag-along to the current case. The rest, as they say, is history.

Overall I enjoyed the book. It was different from what I had expected (again, I don’t know why I expected anything different), but in the end it was a very pleasant book to read, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. I look forward to reading more of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I could probably stand to reread THotB.

On another note, I need to do some reading about the foundations of Mormonism. …cause if what this book suggests is true…yikes!

E.

 

Gone With the Wind – A Reading Journal, Part IV

This post comes to you as a series of thoughts by bullet point. Spoilers abound.

-Ashley actually does like her? I apparently misread things from the beginning. Even after that confrontation in the orchard, she is still so wild about him. I’ve been harboring that she didn’t truly love him, but now having thought of him above everyone else except herself for so many years now, maybe it is more than just infatuation. Is his side of things only lust? Or does he truly admire her? I may have to go back and reread some of their scenes at the beginning.

-I can’t believe she stole another husband out from under someone, and this time from her own sister! Scarlett is a heartless cutthroat bitch, let’s just be honest.

-Clearly Scarlett is breaking some huge stereotypes in this section by becoming a business owner as a woman. Although it is too bad that Scarlett let’s her keen business sense trump her morality. She understands the treatment of the convicts at her mills are wrong, and yet the bottom line is all she cares about at the end of the day.

-I love the term ‘scandalized’.

-I like how through most of this section Scarlett and Rhett are pretty well established friends. They are very clearly cut by the same cloth, and Rhett has known that all along. If only Scarlett had a brain! Their conversations are one of my favorite things to read. And my, Rhett has so much patience with her!

-This novel has me intrigued. I have been reading online about the civil war, and I am interested in finding some good, readable, non-fiction as well as more fiction about the American Civil War era. Anyone have suggestions on what I should add to my TBR?

-Some of these I wrote before finishing part four, but now that I have: 😱🤗😁 They’ve finally done it! And what a sweet moment the proposal was. Yes, Rhett is probably a horrible person, but he knew from the beginning that Scarlett married Frank for his money, out of necessity, for survival. With that in mind I don’t feel Rhett was a scoundrel for proposing only days after her husband’s death. I frigging love Rhett Butler. He reminds me of Mr. Rochester from my favorite classic (Jane Eyre) in many ways.

Not so many details this time, I can’t wait to finish so I can reflect on the book as a whole.

E.

Gone With the Wind, A Reading Journal – Part 1

I’m not sure how I was talked into reading this book so suddenly and completely, given that the number of books I’ve finished with upwards of 700 pages I could probably count on one hand (and all read in some other format than a printed book at that…e-books and audiobooks). I jovially call it a curse that I can’t finish books with too many pages, but I think that the real issue has to do with pacing. Long books with slow pacing inevitably have boring stretches, and I don’t have enough self-discipline to make myself keep trudging through it when another book right next to it seems to be calling out to me to pick it up. A few of them I regret not finishing; The Three Musketeers I put down right at halfway through and Anna Karenina I quit with only a quarter left to read. So basically I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping that the momentum I have going with reading lately will help me push through the 1,000 pages of this novel. So far, I’d say it’s going well. Be warned, this is a reading journal and not a book review, so there will be spoilers ahead (through part 1).

I picked up my copy of Gone With the Wind from a thrift shop for probably only a dollar or two, simply because it’s a well known classic. It’s a beaten up mass market paperback that was printed in 1973 (the twenty third printing, apparently). The edges of the pages are a vibrant red, faded just a bit near the spine on either side, and if I’m not careful with it, the cover may not survive a full read through. This is not the type of book I am attracted to. In fact, when I was working on my bookshelves over the weekend the thought of donating it back to the thrift store crossed my mind before I sighed and tucked it back away with the other mass market paperbacks I own, hidden behind the door of a cabinet. I can at least read it first, I told myself. And so I put it on my newly revised classics club list, which I posted about later that day, and by the late afternoon, I had cracked the cover and started to read.

It was a comment conversation with Jillian from Of Cannons and Books that convinced me to read it. I believe it is her very favorite book. It is hard to resist a book when someone who loves it passionately is urging you to read it. Before two days ago, I didn’t know a single thing about Gone With the Wind except that there was a guy named Rhett in it, and it had been made into a film which also became a classic. What I learned from the brief exchange with Jillian is that Gone With the Wind is my favorite kind of book, a transformational one, a great coming-of-age story, or a bildungsroman, if you will. When I read her comments on it, it rang a bell of similarity to my favorite novel, Jane Eyre. Suddenly I wanted to read about this young girl who was enormously conceited at the beginning of the novel and grows and matures as the circumstances around her change. After all, that is everyone’s story, is it not? Growing up?

What I didn’t realize until I started reading was how conceited Scarlett O’Hara is. She’s a mean girl. She steals boyfriends just to say she’s done it, and gives a cold shoulder to the girl she’s stolen him from. As I read through all of part one I was more and more surprised at just how little she cared about how her actions were effecting those around her. It served her right to hear the other girls talking about how wicked she was behind a closed door. But then to go and marry the beaux of the girl who bad-mouthed her even though she was indifferent to him at best? That’s cold. Frozen, in fact. And yet, I had a phase of Scarlett O’Hara syndrome, just after high school, when my second boyfriend broke up with me. I wanted to be wanted, and by god I was. Looking back on that time in my life makes me feel guilty and terrible, but it was only a phase, and I still had a brain (and even though it’s made clear, especially in the beginning, that Scarlett hates books and school and doesn’t value education in the least, she also isn’t stupid. Stupid people aren’t good at scheming.). Mostly Scarlett’s story so far reminds me of middle school, when everyone is hormonal and moody and likes to feel like the one in charge or the popular one.

Although Scarlett couldn’t be bothered to listen to the boys when the subject of war came up, I find I’ve enjoyed the snip-its here and there mentioning it very much. And before I forget to mention it, I think the way it is weaved into the story when the main character has no interest whatever about it is very skillful. I tip my hat to Miss Mitchell. I know almost nothing about the civil war anymore, and that is another reason I was kind of intrigued to read this. I’m especially interested to see the perspective from the confederate’s side. Already I’ve learned quite a bit, which is probably a sad testament to my public education and should probably be embarrassing to admit. One thing I found interesting, for example, is that the slaves of the rich families were considered a higher class than the poor ‘white trash’ families who survived off of the charity of their neighbors.

It always seems odd to me how eager young men always seem to be to go to war. It’s easy to say it was stupid to be that way now I suppose, knowing how bloody the Civil War turned out to be. But I do not doubt that the scenes depicted in the novel were not so different than what truly happened in some communities. I liked the passage where Mr. McRae spoke about war. “You all don’t know what war is. You think it’s riding a pretty horse and having the girls throw flowers at you and coming home a hero. Well, it ain’t. No, Sir! It’s going hungry, and getting the measles and pneumonia from sleeping in the wet.” …Not to mention death and entire fields soaked with blood and all for what? One scene from the trailer Jillian shared with me was of Scarlett walking through a field of dead and wounded men from the war. What a powerful image. It sounds weird to phrase it this way but I’m tired and can’t think of the true sentiment I’m trying to convey, but I’m really excited to read the bits about the war going forward. One of my other favorite novels, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an incredible novel about recovering from WWII in England. I guess I’m hoping for a little bit of that as well.

It’s getting late now, and I was hoping to finish this quickly so I could start part two tonight, but if I don’t get some sleep now I’m going to regret it in the morning! Thank you, Jillian, for convincing me to start this novel. I think I’m going to like it very much :-)

Goodnight!
E.