Like I’ll Never Be Young Again, which I read at the beginning of May, My Cousin Rachel is written in the first person from a male perspective. Also as in I’ll Never Be Young Again, the male narrator is a naïve, immature man who I found it difficult to sympathise with. His name is Philip Ashley, a twenty-four year old Englishman who has been raised by an older cousin, having lost both his parents at an early age. Philip and his cousin Ambrose have a very close relationship and Philip is left confused and jealous when Ambrose suddenly marries a woman he meets in Italy. This woman happens to be another cousin of theirs – their cousin Rachel.
Early in the novel, Ambrose dies and Rachel returns alone to the Ashley estate in England. At first, Philip is convinced his cousin Rachel was responsible for Ambrose’s death, but after meeting her he’s not so sure…
My Cousin Rachel is often compared with Daphne du Maurier’s most famous book, Rebecca, and although the two books are very different in many ways, I can see the reasons for the comparisons. The books share some common elements, including the estate in Cornwall (based on du Maurier’s own home, Menabilly) and the mysterious, secretive woman, but the biggest resemblance is in the atmosphere the writing conveys. Daphne du Maurier is one of the most atmospheric writers I know of. Whether she’s writing about the streets of Florence or the coast of Cornwall she always manages to convey a mood perfectly suited to the location and draws you completely into the world she has created. My Cousin Rachel has a strong feeling of foreboding, where from the beginning you know something bad is going to happen and you’re just waiting to see what it is.
Throughout the book, my opinion of Rachel was constantly changing. It was hard to form an accurate idea of what Rachel was like, as we only really saw her through Philip’s eyes and he was not a reliable narrator. Another thing that added to the vagueness and uncertainty of the story was that we were never told exactly when it was taking place. It was obvious that the book was set in the 19th century, but which decade? And what was the name of the Ashley estate? Unless I missed it, we weren’t told that either. It seems to be quite typical of Daphne du Maurier to withhold information from us in this way – after all, in Rebecca we aren’t even told the narrator’s name!
There are a lot of loose ends and questions left unanswered at the end of the book, which is something that often bothers me, but in this case I didn’t mind. I liked the way there were aspects of the story that could be interpreted in several different ways. I expect it would have been a good book to read with a group, as the ambiguity would lead to some interesting discussions and theories.
Pages: 304/Publisher: Virago Press (Virago Modern Classics 491)/Year: 2008 (originally published 1951)/Source: Library book