Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Short Review: 'My Cousin Rachel' by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelI was never a big fan of Hitchcock's The Birds, partially because of the on-set stories and the fact I always found it a little bit boring. But then I read a collection of Daphne du Maurier's short stories and that all changed. Her writing gripped me in a way that this film by "the master of suspense" never did. That is when I decided Rebecca and all of du Maurier's other works were due a read. I've slowly worked my way through her work but had never heard of My Cousin Rachel until I saw a trailer for its upcoming adaptation, which sent me on a frantic reading spree.

Original Pub. Date: 1951
Publisher: Doubleday
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 love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?
After finishing My Cousin Rachel I wondered why so much of my du Maurier reading is tied up with the cinema. Upon giving it some thought I realized that it stems from the power of du Maurier's writing. Although she is classed as a romantic writer, her novels and short stories are full of suspense and a broody, dark atmosphere that translates beautifully onto the screen. Her characters are full of secrets and undisclosed desires, her landscapes and mansions come alive for the reader and her stories ring with an echo of the normal and paranormal. It makes for an engrossing read, every single time. Her short stories is what really turned me towards her, since writing good short stories is an art of its own. My Cousin Rachel falls somewhere between a short story and a novel, not as deep as her novels yet also too involved for a short story. In the end, My Cousin Rachel is a rather quick and straightforward narrative which gives a hint of du Maurier's power, yet I think it doesn't give a full taste of all she is capable.

My Cousin Rachel is, in many ways, quite a straightforward story. Written in hindsight, its main character Philip Ashley warns the reader about the unhappy story ahead of them. With its lush Cornwall setting and its purposefully quaint portrayal of the landed gentry, du Maurier sets a sharp contrast between what we see and what is at the heart of things. Everyone might have a secret agenda and ulterior motives, while some of us may also just be fools. The cousin, Rachel, is without a doubt the most interesting and mysterious person in the novella and it is one of my few petty gripes with the story that we never fully get to know her. Of course this is fully on purpose, giving the reader a sense of Philip's despair. Aside from Rachel, there are a fair few of fascinating side characters, some of which may be a little bit flat but still interesting.

I give this novella...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading My Cousin Rachel despite its brevity. du Maurier is a masterful writer and I'm definitely continuing my mission to read more of her work. I'd recommend this to those who want to get a taste for du Maurier but aren't big fans of short stories. I leave you with the trailer that inspired my reading.


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