Since the death of his parents when he was a young boy, Philip Ashley has been raised by his uncle, Ambrose. The two of them spent many happy years together, creating something of a bachelor pad in the Cornish mansion they inhabit. As Ambrose reaches middle age he finds the harsh Cornish winters too much and so spends these months on the continent. This arrangement works well until one spring Ambrose doesn’t return. Instead he marries Rachel, a woman who has family links to Cornwall but who has spent the majority of her life in Italy. Everything seems fine until Philip starts receiving confusing and accusatory letters from Ambrose and so sets off to Italy, only to find out on his arrival that his uncle has passed away and Rachel has fled. And so the stage is set for Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel.
The recent, although arguably disastrous, BBC production of Jamaica Inn sparked my interest in du Maurier and since My Cousin Rachel is on my TBR Pile I thought now was the perfect time to pick it up. I’m glad I did. I have only read one other du Maurier novel (Rebecca) and I vividly remember the slow burning tension throughout the novel and the hints at a mystery I just had to solve and I’m pleased to say this was the case for My Cousin Rachel. . After Philip’s arrival back in Cornwall he is full of hatred for Rachel and yet as soon as she arrives for a short visit he is captured under her spell and so infatuated he is unwilling to see her flaws and the potential danger of too close a relationship with her.
It is difficult to write about this novel without giving away too many spoilers and I don’t want to do that as it is the mystery that makes My Cousin Rachel such a fantastic read. I love how du Maurier drops subtle hints, leaving the reader eager to solve the mystery of Ambrose’s death and the role, if any, that Rachel played. I found the character of Philip infuriating in places; even when all the facts/clues were in front of him he continued to make excuses for Rachel, going against everything he had been taught or believed throughout his life. But then maybe this is what makes it such a great read, the reader knows something must be going on, but in the face of all these clues and hints Philip just refuses to see it.
Overall My Cousin Rachel is a great read, full of suspense, mystery and some beautiful descriptions of the Cornish scenery and the changing seasons. Although I have only read one other du Maurier novel, I like how both the novels I have read have an element of mystery and not in the ‘who dunnit’ kind of way that I usually enjoy, but in a more subtle and intriguing way. Even though I finished the novel yesterday, the ending is still with me, and I am sure those who have read My Cousin Rachel will know exactly what I am talking about.