Saturday, 31 December 2011

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

I was determined to squeeze in one last novel for 2011, so have spent most of today curled up with this suspenseful book, thus completing the "Books I Should Have Read by Now" challenge and ending the year on a very high note. This is only the second of du Maurier's books I've read, but it surely won't be the last.

My Cousin Rachel is written in the first person by Philip Ashley, a young man whose parents died when he was a baby, and who was brought up by his beloved cousin, Ambrose. When poor health forces Ambrose to spend the winter in Italy, he meets and marries Rachel, a distant cousin of the family. Philip is astounded and troubled by the sudden news, but becomes even more upset when he receives a strange letter from Ambrose, accusing Rachel of betrayal and begging Philip to come to his aid. When Philip arrives to find Ambrose dead, he vows revenge on Rachel, but when she comes to visit her late husband's home some months later, Philip finds that his new cousin isn't at all as he'd imagined.

So begins a wonderful tale filled with suspicion and the sort of "all is not as it seems" intrigue that is characteristic of du Maurier's most famous novel, Rebecca. In fact, there are so many similarities between the two novels you could almost call this a kind of self plagarism. Almost, but not quite - Philip Ashley is a very different character from the unnamed heroine of Rebecca. I loved this book, really I did, but that didn't stop me wanting to reach through the pages and give Philip a good slap. He's so very naive that you just want to scream at him to stop being such a fool, open his eyes and man up. He has good friends who give sound advice, but does he listen to them? No, he does not! Infuriating!

The character of Rachel is brilliantly done. Could she be capable of dastardly deeds? We're never quite sure; just when we think we've got it sussed we start to re-evaluate again. Maybe Ambrose was mad, maybe Philip is mad, maybe nobody's mad and Rachel really is a scheming two-faced psychopath. Trying to work it all out is a lot of fun and you'll still be wondering right up to the very last page.

When it comes to twisty-turny psycholgical thrillers, du Maurier is undoubtably right up there with the very best. I'd like to read some more of her work though, to see if she can turn her hand to something else. Maybe Frenchman's Creek or Jamaica Inn will show off her talents in another area? I look forward to finding out.

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