Wow. I am so glad that I read this. "My Cousin Rachel" is not just a mystery/thriller, it also has very good Gothic elements and a very twisty (in a good way story). We have two men who come across their cousin Rachel with both trying their best to hang onto her even though she wants freedom from both. You do wonder if Rachel has done all that she has been accused of via her husband Ambrose and his cousin and heir Phillip. Or have both men been seeing zebras where there were just horses? I like to think in the end there was a mixture of things in this story.
The story begins with the Phillip thinking of how murderers are no longer hung at a certain location anymore. He goes on about his upbringing with his cousin Ambrose, and how he will be seen as a standing and upright citizen like Ambrose one day. But you start to realize that these are merely words to Phillip. That something has happened that has broken him. We eventually have him mention his cousin Rachel.
Phillip is 23 when we go back to when Ambrose decides to depart for a warmer climate due to his health. Both of the men (long without women) have backwards notions about women even for the time this book takes place in. There are a few times we get Phillip's comments about his godfather's daughter, Louise, and wow. His condescension towards her at times did make me worry for her health a few times. Ambrose eventually writes to Phillip about meeting their cousin Rachel in Florence and before you know it, the two are married. Phillip is jealous of the fact that Ambrose has fallen in love and forgotten about him. And those nearby gently tell Philip that he will have to see about getting his own home soon. When Ambrose starts writing Phillip, it seems the bloom is off the rose of his new marriage (it's been 10 months) and then the letters becoming increasingly unhinged with Phillip concerned that something is being done to Ambrose. Taking himself off to Italy he finds that Ambrose has died a few weeks before he came there and all his thoughts are about destroying Rachel if and when he comes across her.
The story takes a turn at this point with Phillip eventually getting to meet his cousin Rachel and having her stay with him at his house and estate (he inherited from Ambrose). You start to wonder if Rachel is just a woman with unfortunate luck (her first husband died by duel, Ambrose by they say a tumor/brain disease) or is she more devious than she seems.
Du Maurier likes playing both sides throughout the story. You can see how Rachel's actions at time seem to be as if she is playing with Phillip. However, you get to see his actions and they are in some ways worse. He ignores Rachel when she says stop and doesn't listen to her wants and needs. He seems determined to treat her as if she has no say in her own life. Since Rachel is 35 and Phillip about to turn 25, you would wonder why he would become so fixated on Rachel, but it seems that he was determined to take over something that Ambrose had.
The other characters in this book are interesting as well. Initially Phillip's godfather (Nicholas Kendall) is put out by Phillip's hostile behavior towards Rachel. But when Phillip swings the other way to being too generous and not listening to his advice, he realizes that Phillip will come to some bad end if things are not changed.
I thought the character of Louise was the only one who saw things clearly and loved re-reading her comments to Phillip. The fact that Phillip treats her as brainless made me shake my head. If anyone could not see what was going on it was definitely Phillip. And you become sad since if things had gone another way, she would have been a perfect wife for him. Due to the ending, I wonder if she stayed away from Phillip in the future, or not.
The writing was very good. The house starts to feel oppressive and dark after a while, matching Phillip's mood. Even though the house is undergoing a restoration with gardens, a bridge, flowers, it feels like it will stay a museum, pretty to look at, with no soul.
The flow was a bit wonky at first. The book starts off slow and you may find yourself bored, but stick with the story, it will pick up and you won't be able to put this down.
The setting of the story is in Cornwall and Florence. Most of the book takes place in Cornwall though. Phillip hates Florence and does not write of the charm of the place or the food. He merely complains of the heat and dryness. In contrast, Rachel longs for Italy and the weather. Cornwall at first seems quite magical when Rachel first comes to the house.
The ending leaves you with so many questions. The uppermost in my mind is the question of whether Rachel is guilty of what Ambrose and Phillip thought of her? In the end though, does it matter?