Tag Archives: Daphne Du Maurier

Deception and delusion…reading My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.

My Cousin RachelSince 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 My cousin racheldelusion 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 rachelMy 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 my cousin rachelreader’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.

My cousin rachelI 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 InnMy Cousin Rachel strikes that ideal balance of an engaging plot, believable characters and plausible, evenly-spread mystery.

challenge 12I 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 TravellerI 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.

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Gritty and gruesome, a review of Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier.

Jamaica Inn: terrifying, thrilling, tempestuous. It’s Wuthering Heights but with characters you can actually relate to.

I’ve been away and without my computer, but I have not been idle. I have read my way through Jamaica Inn and am actually well on my way through my next book – but enough of that, there is far too much to be said about the brilliant Jamaica Inn.

It’s the second novel I’ve read by Daphne du Maurier and I think it deservedly wins the In my good books… award for most gripping book so far. From page one I was hooked on this story, it has just the right mixture of intrigue and suspense, with a refreshingly courageous narrator…Mary Yellan, undoubtedly worthy of the word ‘heroine’. Yipeee, my prayers have been answered. Yes, for me, Mary is my favourite heroine of all the book’s I’ve blogged about so far. She’s no insipid pushover, but a tough, shrewd woman who has full command of her senses.

But Jamaica Inn has many more jewels in its crown, aside from its praiseworthy heroine. I really loved the landscape of this book. Du Maurier’s depiction of the desolate moorland surrounding Jamaica Inn plays a really powerful role in the story. Like the looming presence of Rebecca de Winter in Rebecca, the landscape of Jamaica Inn acts as an almost menacing force encircling the Inn and trapping Mary like a canary in a cage…just how long can she breathe the dangerous, stale air of her Uncle’s home before she suffocates. But the moors of Cornwall are not totally bereft of hope for our heroine, I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that du Maurier scatters just enough hope for Mary that you never feel that she is helplessly damned to remain in the shadow of Jamaica Inn.

I cannot go on without mentioning some of the other fantastic characters from this book. Joss Merlyn, Mary’s menacing Uncle, makes a very believable (and, consequently, far more intimidating) sub-villain. I say ‘sub-villian’ instead of just villain because Joss Merlyn is a complicated man and a complicated character. He definitely won’t be checking-in to heaven any time soon, but du Maurier draws him well, he’s not purely evil. For one, Joss makes no effort to conceal his nasty nature and never speaks a kind word to anyone, but we do see him tortured by his deeds and seeking escape from his past. His cruelty to Mary’s Aunt, Patience, is sad to behold but he recognises Mary’s mind and willpower and respects her for them. I think Heathcliff has a new rival. I don’t want to say too much, but Joss Merlyn is by no means the only human terror that dwells in the land between Truro and Bodmin and, though she is often blind to it, Mary treads some very dangerous paths. Du Maurier’s characterisation is truly superb.

I really do recommend Jamaica Inn, it’s a fantastic book. To be honest, I am at a loss to understand why it seems to have spent its life skulking in Rebecca’s shadow. In my opinion, it’s a far superior book. It has real grit and gravitas. It should definitely be up there alongside the Bronte’s novels, every bit as good as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, it has kept my interest far more than any of the books I’ve read during the last six months. I just can’t believe I’d left it lying around in a pile of books beside my bed for so long.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’m also well along my way to finishing my next book. Having seen the recent trailers for the film…I decided not to go and see it, but to read the book instead…David Nicholls’ One Day. I’ll save my opinions for my next post, but I will say, so far…it ain’t bad.

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A review of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Well, I’ve pored my way through the last hundred pages, the plot thickening as they went. I can’t help but think what a sad story it turned out to be. As the truth unfolds you can to see that each of the characters is caged in one way or another, whether it be by love, hatred, devotion, servitude, duty…everyone in the story seems to suffer from their own variety of entrapment.

I read with mixed feelings, not quite knowing whether or not I wanted the truth to come out, never coming to any definite conclusion about some of the story’s characters. It seems to me that the boundary between good and bad, right and wrong, truth and lie is blurred in this story. I don’t think I’ll ever quite decide who the real ‘baddie’ is. Each one of the characters seems to me to carry light and shade, there is no one to hold up as an example of morality; even the characters who don’t commit crimes themselves and who don’t utter hateful words stand by and knowingly let others do so. Nobody finishes with a clean conscience and nobody emerges unscathed or unscarred.

The story, as I mentioned yesterday, is well written and the plot drives the narrative well. The pace of the novel alters to fit the circumstances and never do we feel that events are passing us by or that the narrative is dwelling too long at any given moment. The characters are well drawn, and as the novel progresses we come to understand them better – their motivations, their nature, their hopes and fears. We never are told the narrator’s name, and I can’t quite make up my mind as to whether she earns the title of heroine. With the novel’s title being afforded to another character and, perhaps because she appears (to me, anyway) so weak, I don’t feel that she quite merits being called a heroine. Elizabeth Bennet, Bridget Jones, Woolf’s Orlando, even – these narrators strike me as heroines…I’m afraid I can’t say the same of the second Mrs de Winter.

That’s not to say, however, that I did not enjoy the book. I enjoyed it immensely. It’s gripping, intriguing, well written and exciting. Do I recommend it to you? Most definitely. Does it merit being held up as one of literature’s classics? Yes, I think it does.

Swiftly on to book number three…a more modern classic this time, The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom.

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Exciting…continuing Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Only one hundred pages to go now. I got engrossed last night and stayed up horribly late reading, I’ve been shattered all day as a result, oops. I’m finding the book really gripping and the constant sensation that you are on the brink of something terrible never fails to keep you reading (even when it’s far past your bedtime).

I failed in my efforts of not becoming afraid of Mrs Danvers and, am happy to say she quite terrifies me. There aren’t enough scary women in classic novels. She reminds me of the typical Disney villain (and half of them are women) – demonstrating, from the outset, an inane and irrational hatred of the book’s heroine. At the point I’m at at the moment, her story’s not really been fully explained and I already have a plethora of theories about her, ranging from the wild to the ridiculous.

Nothing’s what it seems in this novel, from the characters themselves to the constantly unexpected plot. As a reader, you can’t help feeling that, as a result of the book’s narrator, it’s rather a case of the blind leading the blind. She (whose name has still not been revealed) is so young, innocent and meek that you find yourself clawing at the small snippets of information given to you (which go utterly misinterpreted by her) and wishing you could march in there and tell her to pull herself together. This, for me, has been the one disappointment of the book so far – to read, caged by the thoughts of such a weak and insipid narrator. So far, anyway, women have not been represented in the best light in the novel. They’re either evil, deranged, unfaithful, snobby, weak or clumsy – not the qualities one would choose to have one’s sex represented by.

Gender politics aside though, the book has really turned out to be a good read and I’m looking forward to sitting myself down with a cup of tea and devouring the last hundred pages…quite a turn-around when you consider Du Maurier’s still describing flowers by the vase-load whenever she can – but, I’m willing to put that aside for such a well written and exciting story. See, I’m getting wiser already and I’m only on book two.

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