Ambrose Ashley, Phillip’s beloved guardian and cousin, goes off to the Continent for health reasons, and there he meets and marries a distant cousin, Rachel, and they settle at her villa in Rome. Everything seems to go well at first, but later Ambrose becomes sick, and his letters carry hints of paranoia, almost raving. Phillip takes himself off to Italy, but not before receiving one more damning letter from Ambrose that implies his death is imminent, and Rachel may have something to do with it. By the time Phillip gets to Rome, Ambrose is already dead and buried, and Rachel has left the villa. Phillip returns to England, vowing to repay Rachel for Ambrose’s death.
Not long after Phillip’s return, Rachel comes to visit, and Phillip’s suspicions fade almost immediately. How could this tiny, charming woman have done anything to Ambrose, this woman who is genuinely grieved at his death?
I originally started on My Cousin Rachel in late 2014 but had to put it aside for some reason (too busy or something) and didn’t get to back to it until this month. I’d initially read up to Chapter 8 (where Rachel enters the story) when I first put it down, and these chapters were great. But from the time Rachel gets grafted in, my enjoyment plummeted somehow. Everything about the book was still going well but I just couldn’t connect with the characters. Phillip is so painfully open and credulous, and immature; he seems to lose all steam as soon as Rachel comes into the picture. Rachel, on the other hand, seems sly and manipulative, but is she really? There is a lot of ambiguity in this novel, and it’s told in Phillip’s first-person POV, which makes it harder to get a clear sense of what is really up with Rachel. Her character is drawn very well. I just couldn’t like Phillip or feel any sympathy for Rachel. My anti-feelings got so bad I even considered giving the book up as a DNF. To carry on, I did put away the ebook and got the audiobook from the library. I didn't like the narrator's voice but I sped it up to the max and carried on.
Despite how I felt about it, the book is a good read. Everything about the writing is great, and the atmosphere is amazing, that low-grade dread that something awful is going to happen, just wait for it; for my money, nobody does atmosphere as well as Daphne du Maurier. It’s just that all my appreciation is for the writing only, and not the story so much, in which I found nothing redemptive, no real take-away. This is definitely a ‘hangover’ book for me (I read it days ago and it’s still on my mind), but more in a ‘carnival freak-show curiosity’ kinda way, like "uh, what just happened here?"
So, while my overall feeling about it is not overwhelmingly positive, I feel my 4-star rating is fair.
‘'There are some women, Philip, good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch somehow turns to tragedy. I don’t know why I say this to you, but I feel I must.’'