Since beginning In my good books… Daphne du Maurier has been something of a discovery for me. I’d never read anything by du Maurier until a couple of years ago. Since then I have read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and now My Cousin Rachel. Du Maurier is certainly a master of the mystery genre and crafts suspense, fear and foreboding with an expert hand. When I chose to read My Cousin Rachel I anticipated a well-plotted narrative, with thrilling characters and chilling intrigue…I was not disappointed.
My Cousin Rachel is perhaps not as fearsome as Jamaica Inn and maybe not as chilling as Rebecca, but it does have something special. The story is certainly a mysterious one and the eponymous Rachel presents an interesting heroine-villain. Du Maurier’s story is very much a psychological mystery. It deftly explores the themes of suspicion and fear and the ways in which these emotions drive and inhibit people.
As a reader we are always kept wondering…something du Maurier is adept at. We never quite know if her characters are suffering from delusion and paranoia or whether their sinister suspicions will come to be founded. The book was published in 1951, although the story’s setting is a period one, taking place in the 19th century and (as in Jamaica Inn) the period and the rugged rural isolation of its Cornish setting provides My Cousin Rachel with a sort of eerie isolation. Du Maurier’s choice of this isolated setting perfectly complements the feelings of jealousy and resentment that her characters start to feel. Any intruders into the remote landscape are to be examined and their motives evaluated. This makes for a real psychological experiment and encourages you, the reader, to evaluate the characters motives and actions with a suspicion you may have otherwise disregarded.
My Cousin Rachel is also the first novel I have read by du Maurier which is narrated from a male perspective. Something of an Othello, her narrative voice is that of Philip Ashley, a young and somewhat naive young man who suddenly finds himself with far more power and responsibility than his life has prepared him for. Du Maurier also makes clever use of first-person narration, only allowing her readers to glimpse the world through Philip’s eyes. We are blinded by his jealousy and fears, and, as such, must judge the events transpiring with the eyes of a discerning detective – trying to piece together the truth from the somewhat distorted vision we are presented with.
Where Rachel herself is concerned she is always something of an enigma. We never quite get close enough to see her as she really is. The reader’s vision is always distorted either by Philip’s emotions, Rachel’s conflicting actions, others’ opinions of her or, indeed, her very nature which seems to be to deflect and evade. Even at the novel’s conclusion the true character of Rachel hangs over the narrative like a giant pulsing question mark, what do we actually know about the enigmatic cousin Rachel?
I enjoyed reading My Cousin Rachel, its strong elements of intrigue and mystery certainly keep your interest peaked. As is usual with du Maurier, the writing style is simple and effective and the first-person narration is delivered with skill and careful manipulation.
I know I will return to Daphne du Maurier as she has yet to disappoint me. I wholeheartedly recommend My Cousin Rachel, especially to those who have enjoyed du Maurier’s other books. A perfect mid-point between Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel strikes that ideal balance of an engaging plot, believable characters and plausible, evenly-spread mystery.
I read My Cousin Rachel as part of the ‘Back to the Classics Challenge‘ in the category of ‘Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction‘. This is my final book which completes my entry into the Classics Challenge – just by the skin of my teeth, I’ve made the deadline. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the 2012 Back to the Classics Challenge and feel it has really helped me to see my way through the year’s reading. There have been real highs and lows to my reading this year, from the highs of Love in a Cold Climate and my joyful re-reading of Pride and Prejudice to a new-found favourite in North and South…I have also plummeted to the depths of despair in this year’s reading and teetered on the brink of defeat with If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. I have suffered indifference where The Great Gatsby is concerned and finally have rounded off my year with an enjoyable mystery. My year certainly proves to me that no writer or book can be all things to all men and that, as a reader, it is important to keep as open a mind as possible and take some risks, even though it is inevitable that not all will pay off.
I’m going to take a break from reading challenges now and read some of those books that have been piling up as I’ve striven to meet the requirements of the Classics Challenge. My first step into the uncategorized will be a book that has inhabited my bookshelf, unread, for far too long…Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.