I have never read many books by Daphne Du Maurier because I started with Rebecca which is quite a chilling tale and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. On a whim, however, I purchased and listened to the audiobook of My Cousin Rachel and I am very glad that I did. This is a clever and compelling novel which had me absolutely hooked from the beginning.
It is difficult to know exactly when this book is set as it references few outside events but I would say it is about the turn of the nineteenth century. The story is set on a Cornish country estate owned by Ambrose on which his ward Philip has been brought up. All the staff are men and Philip has had an isolated upbringing where he socialises only with local gentry. There is an expectation that he will marry a local woman but Philip doesn’t really recognise how well this is accepted in the area and by Louise herself.
The whole book is written from Philip’s point of view and the reader understands that he is mistaken about some things and has a very narrow view of the world but, of course, we never quite know how much of what he is telling us is the truth and the cleverness of the writing continually leaves us wondering about what is really going on.
When Ambrose travels to Florence he unexpectedly marries Rachel, who is not Philip’s cousin at all but he refers to her as such in his narrative. He dies soon after the wedding having sent Philip some disquieting letters implying that Rachel may be trying to kill him. Philip is upset and confused but when Rachel travels to his home he slowly comes under her spell and is convinced that the two of them have a future together. He plans marriage, makes her his heir and wants to give her family heirlooms. Then he realises that Rachel doesn’t see things quite the way that he does and that maybe he can’t believe her after all.
This book is very cleverly written. You realise that Philip is becoming besotted by Rachel but, as a reader, you can’t stop him. You want to shout at him to be careful but, like Philip, you are never sure exactly what Rachel is and what her motives are. Is Rachel a gold-digging murderer playing with Philip’s attractions ? Is she innocent and the victim of Philip’s fantasies ? Is she greedy or just bad with money ? Is she a physical danger to Philip ?
I highly recommend this novel.