Perhaps it’s no surprise to find another review of a novel by Daphne Du Maurier on my blog. I love Rebecca so much, as I know a lot of you do too, and I read The House on the Strand a few months back, (you’ll find the review for that one HERE). This book is one of Du Maurier’s more well known stories, and I was very excited about coming across it in a charity store discount book bin (one of my favourite places to hang out, you’ll find). There are already two film versions of this book, with another set to come out around June or July this year, starring Rachel Weisz in the title role.
So who is Rachel, and whose cousin is she?
Set in Cornwall, a young orphan Phillip is raised by his older cousin Ambrose. The two of them live together in a bachelor existence, until Ambrose must go to Europe for the Winters, due to ill health. Phillip misses him, and is shocked to receive a letter telling of his marriage, and about a year later begging him to come as he thinks his wife might be poisoning him, his wife that is a distant cousin called Rachel.
Phillip travels to Florence, where Ambrose was residing, but finds his beloved cousin already deceased, and Rachel gone. He is angry, grieving and bitter on his return to England, and when Rachel writes to say that she has just arrived also and would like to see him, he agrees, plotting revenge. What he finds instead is a beautiful, charming woman who sets the small town talking. Phillip is drawn to his cousin Rachel, but is she a spider ensnaring her in his web, or is she truly innocent?
The book unfolds at just the right pace to keep you guessing, and little clues and things are slowly brought to light about Rachel and who she really is. It’s a suspenseful story, and Phillip as the protagonist and narrator is a man who manages to reveal things to the reader without understanding their implications himself, for example, his childhood friend Louise, who clearly has intentions regarding him that he is blissfully ignorant of, at least at first. Rachel is constructed through his eyes, and it’s a wonderful creative device, as we can only know as much as he does, and he is starting to fall for her.
The central mystery of what the real character of Rachel is and whether she is part of some foul play is really fascinating. Written in the early 50’s, it allows more grittiness than it’s earlier time period would allow, and manages to point out the foolishness of the unworldly, and even how unworldly someone might be in an era before cars and telegrams. Phillip is a young man whose sheltered life and privilege mean that he says some things about class and women that are hilariously outdated, but that also serve to show how easily he could be duped, and how stubborn a man of his position could be allowed to be.
Read It If: it’s all wonderful stuff, a fascinating mystery, a torrid and unconventional romance, and a little commentary on class and gender thrown in, it’s one of Du Maurier’s most famous novels, and with very good reason.