If a good friend runs a reading week for an author every year and then gives you a book by said author for Christmas in the lovely new Virago edition, well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it! Here’s my contribution to Heaven-Ali’s Daphne du Maurier reading week and it’s SUCH a page-turner of a book – I started it on Saturday evening and there I was, frantically finishing it at lunchtime on Monday! I read “Rebecca” and “Jamaica Inn” last year and they were also page-turners, although I think I might now have exhausted the ones I can read, as I don’t like ghosty ones or anything too scary (“Jamaica Inn” was a bit scary for me).

Daphne du Maurier – “My Cousin Rachel”

(25 December 2020 – from Ali)

I felt strangely moved, as if all that I did and said was laid down for me and planned, while at the same time a small still voice whispered to me in some dark cell of matter, ‘You can never go back upon this moment. Never … never …’ (p. 171)

We open with a nice jolly gibbet (always good when you start a book over your tea …) and a big wodge of doomy foreboding as our narrator/hero moves from a childhood warning sign at the cross-roads to considering how he shouldn’t have had the fate he had, had he been different, and giving a few little clues to the story to come. It’s du Maurier at her gothic best, warning and foreshadowing and unnerving us.

Then we get swept up in the story, which winds up tighter and tighter, as we learn of our hero, Philip’s, ideal life, raised by his cousin Ambrose, secure in his position and happy in his community, with a godfather whose daughter Louise is his best friend. Then Ambrose goes to Italy for his health, meets a distant cousin, gets entangled, and it’s only when “My Cousin Rachel” arrives at the house to … well, to do what, exactly? that everything starts to get really complicated.

Rachel seems very different, and younger, rather than the evil old temptress Philip has imagined her to be. But is it all push from him and no pull from her or is she working subtle charms on him? Good old Louise sees clearly what’s going on – or what might be, it’s all very murky – but in a sad scene, Philip’s so hell-bent on destroying himself that he almost loses her friendship in the meantime.

There’s humour in the book, in the ministrations of the servants when a lady comes to visit and all manner of silverware is brought out, and in their touching gifts for Philip’s birthday. And du Maurier is partial to a house, isn’t she, and the descriptions of the house and its grounds, and the further fields, are lovely and engaging, too. But the main thing is the plot, ramping up and ramping up, little clues strewn for us to notice and feel clever then … well, the ending is one of many things that can happen, but certainly does work!

There have been a couple of films of this, I think, having had a look around for some way of resolving the unresolved bits of the plot, and it seems one of them at least takes a more conventional approach to the ending, adding a bit onto the actual book. I like it as it is: very exciting and absorbing.