This review can also be found on my blog
I love Daphne du Maurier, I really do. Rebecca is probably my favorite book of all time. Her short stories are fantastic – I could read them over and over and over. So why, why, why could I not love My Cousin Rachel? It was just OK. And it really pains me to say that. I had set the book up in my mind to be as mind-blowingly awesome as Rebecca. And for a while there, I thought that was what I was getting. Right off the bat, the writing is beautiful, and it gives me chills. Du Maurier sets the book up to be just as eerie as I could have hoped for. But, listen. After about 90 pages, Phillip Ashley (you know, that main character guy?) annoyed the bejeezus out of me.
My Cousin Rachel centers around Phillip Ashley, a young man was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle, Ambrose. One winter, Ambrose runs off to Italy and meets a woman, Rachel. They fall in love and get married. Then Phillip starts getting some really weird letters from his uncle, talking about how he thinks Rachel might be killing him and that he can trust no one. Then Ambrose dies and Phillip swears to get revenge. Then Rachel comes to England to visit Phillip. Phillip almost immediately forgets about his plans for revenge and falls in love with Rachel. Then, on his 25th birthday, he hands the estate over to Rachel, completely ignoring every good bit of advice he had been given concerning Rachel and his money. And then all of a sudden, Phillip starts to come down with the same strange sickness that eventually killed Ambrose. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
As I said before, I really wanted to like this book. And for a while I did. The beginning was great. I was all for Phillip getting revenge on Rachel. Yes! Kill her! Kill her dead! But then Phillip actually met Rachel, and all of the bad feelings dissipated instantly. For page upon page of the novel, they live happily together, building the perfect garden, repairing the house, visiting all of the people that live on their estate, hosting Christmas parties. Where was the action? The suspense? I fully understand that the point of the story is that Phillip is blinded by his infatuation with Rachel, which ultimately ends in much sadness. But I could barely read My Cousin Rachel without wanting to violently shake Phillip and then throw the book across the room.
Not only was I frustrated by Phillip, I was also expecting the book to be just as creepy and eerie as Rebecca is. However, as I mentioned above, a lot of the book was kind of boring because everything seemed to be going fine. There was no dead wife that haunted their estate (Uncle Ambrose definitely doesn’t count). There was no overly critical housekeeper trying to convince anyone to kill themselves. If I wasn’t putting the book down because of Phillip’s idiocy, it was because there didn’t seem to be much of anything happening. I read this for the R.I.P. VI challenge, and I was expecting it to be much more suspenseful all the way through.
But of course, My Cousin Rachel was still written by Daphne du Maurier, and the writing is still fantastic. Each description is so vivid. The words themselves were so fun to read, and there were even times when I had to go back and read a passage aloud because it was so awesome. Here is a great example from the novel, in which Phillip describes first seeing Rachel after a hard day of wandering around his estate (that’s all he ever seems to do):
“A new softness came to her by candelight that was not with her in the day. It was as if the brightness of morning and the duller shades of afternoon were given up to purposes of work, of practicality, making a briskness of movement that was definite and cool; and now with evening closed in, the shutters fastened, the weather banished, and the house withdrawn into itself, she shone with a radiance that had lain concealed about her person until now. There was more colour to her cheeks and to her hair, great depth to her eyes, and whether she turned her head to speak, or moved to the bookcase to pick up a volume, or bent to pat Don as he lay stretched out before the fire, there was an easy grace in all she did which gave to every movement fascination. I wondered in these moments how I could ever have thought her unremarkable.” (186)
I just love how we can feel Phillip’s admiration for Rachel in this passage. And not once did du Maurier have to spell out what Rachel looked like. Instead, we are just given a description of how someone could be beautiful, and not why. She’s not blonde, she’s not thin, she doesn’t have a heaving bosom. Rachel could be any woman.
Unfortunately, the writing was not enough to make me fall in love with this book. So, I’m sorry, My Cousin Rachel. But you really disappointed me.
tl;dr: The actual creepy parts were too few and far between for me to feel truly haunted by this book. Also, Phillip is an idiot.