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review 2018-08-16 07:45
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

Philip Ashley's older cousin Ambrose, who raised the orphaned Philip as his own son, has died in Rome. Philip, the heir to Ambrose's beautiful English estate, is crushed that the man he loved died far from home. He is also suspicious. While in Italy, Ambrose fell in love with Rachel, a beautiful English and Italian woman. But the final, brief letters Ambrose wrote hint that his love had turned to paranoia and fear. Now Rachel has arrived at Philip's newly inherited estate. Could this exquisite woman, who seems to genuinely share Philip's grief at Ambrose's death, really be as cruel as Philip imagined? Or is she the kind, passionate woman with whom Ambrose fell in love? Philip struggles to answer this question, knowing Ambrose's estate, and his own future, will be destroyed if his answer is wrong.




Orphaned at a mere 18 months of age, Phillip Ashley is taken in and raised by his much older cousin, Ambrose. Over the years, Ambrose grooms young Phillip to one day take over as heir to Ambrose's Cornish estate. Then the time come when Ambrose embarks on one of his frequent trips to Florence (where he spends the winters so as not to aggravate his health problems). This year though, Ambrose writes to Phillip to say he has become quite enamored by a woman by the name of Rachel, a distant cousin. The letters continue to come, illustrating the rapid development of the relationship. Before long Ambrose sends word that he and Rachel have married.


Ambrose extends his stay in Florence, renting a home there. Ten months away from England, his letters turn from that of a blissed out newlywed to being saturated in melancholy.  The letters get alarmingly more frantic, showing a mental breakdown. A year and a half passes and Ambrose's letters begin arriving in near illegible script and a distinctly paranoid tone. Then one last cryptic letter comes urging Phillip to come quick to Italy, writing "she watches me... Rachel, my torment."  Unfortunately, Ambrose dies before Phillip's arrival, so explanations regarding Ambrose's state of mind at the end remain elusive. 


Phillip returns to England to take up his position as the new heir to Ambrose's estate. Shortly after settling into this new role, he gets word that Ambrose's widow is due to arrive any minute and wishes to spend some time on the land that meant so much to her husband. 


The novel is narrated by Phillip. Through him, we get a first hand account of his initial impressions of Rachel, even how he imagined her from Ambrose's letters. He gives her a pretty hilarious ripping (describing what he imagines pre-introduction) but in person he finds her quite beautiful and beguiling. Still, he can't entirely shake suspicions that she may have had something to do with Ambrose's unexpected passing. They have a bit of a rocky start, but later Phillip chocks it up (at least in part) to Rachel having difficulty with his physical likeness to Ambrose. 



Also in the mix is Phillip's longtime friend, Louise --- honestly, my favorite character in the whole story. Her quietly slipped in snark! When Rachel first arrives, Louise later remarks, "Mourning certainly does not appear drab on her." Reading that brought to my mind the scene in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind when Scarlett goes to that first dance / social event after being widowed. But it irked me how annoying and almost bratty Phillip was around Louise. His poor behavior left me feeling like he certainly didn't deserve a friend of Louise's caliber. 


A historical note in the edition I read from mentioned that du Maurier may have based Cousin Rachel off of Ellen Doubleday (wife of Nelson Doubleday of Doubleday Publishing), whom it was speculated Daphne had "confused" (as the historical note worded it) feelings for. Going into a du Maurier novel, it's often a given to expect a certain level of mystery to the plot. With this one, there were bits of mystery / intrigue here and there, but overall I didn't find as much suspense as I would normally expect from her work. Rachel was painted a bit like a Borgia in the beginning, but the element of suspense fizzed out a bit as the story progresses. While Rachel is undoubtedly an intriguing character, du Maurier doesn't quite land the full punch in terms of the character's level of sly dastardly-ness.






But true to her reputation, even here du Maurier does leave questions for the reader to work out. Was there a deeper motive behind the birthday plan? I was perplexed by Phillip's decision!


Even so, I appreciated the subtle wit sprinkled throughout passages of dialogue. It's what held my interest during the bits where not much else was going on! 


So how does the recent film adaptation hold up? Honestly, I preferred the film! One of the troubles I had with the book is the feeling that sense that du Maurier was not sufficiently answering all the questions or conflicts she posed in the book. But the film expands on what du Maurier offers and gives readers some nice closure on some of those topics, particularly with the film's ending. Some scenes in the film were so beautifully shot they reminded me of Impressionist paintings... it was hard not to be instantly captivated! 




Some changes that caught my attention though:


* The whole scene Rachel has in front of the Arno River seems to be cut from the film. The thoughts she had in that book scene, in the film she speaks them to Rinaildi.


* Rachel Weisz, cast as Cousin Rachel, plays the conversation regarding Italian lessons in a rather weepy tone, which threw me. The way the scene is laid out in the book, I imagined the lines delivered with much more of a dark humor with a side of steely glint in the eye vibe.... but the 2nd fight later on was shot just about how I pictured it!


* The candles! So many candles SO close to canopy bed drapes! Made me wonder about fires on set lol


* It might just be me on this one, but I felt like some scenes had some odd close-ups, strange angle choices, and sometimes even just straight up out of focus. 


Overall, the film adaptation is pretty faithful to the book. A good chunk of the dialogue in the film is actually pulled verbatim from the book text. Not surprisingly though, the film does blaze through a number of plot points in the interest of time. One of the major reveals near the novel's end actually shows up smack in the middle of the film!


I would definitely recommend reading the book first to experience all these little nuances yourself, but either way there's a pretty good story to be had here... the film brings out what the book dropped off! But as Roger Michell, the film's director, put it: "Of course, the best version of all, perfectly cast, impeccably lit and designed, with the greatest soundscape, most dizzying score, infinite budget and cast of thousands, will always be the one projected into the keen reader's imagination as she or he turns the pages that follow."



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review 2018-07-01 00:00
My Cousin Rachel
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne DuMaurier Slow read, interesting premise, lame ending.
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review 2018-03-31 20:19
A Tale of Two Men and One Woman
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

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? 


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text 2018-03-31 12:57
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

So many questions left for me. Was Rachel some dark force? Of were the men who wanted to own her the problem? The beginning makes better sense now based on what we find out Phillip did. Really enjoyed this one!


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text 2018-03-30 17:13
Reading progress update: I've read 8%.
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

So far the narrator (Phillip) has not laid eyes on the so-called "Cousin Rachel" but she seems to be built up to be an evil force. Now we have Rachel and Ambrose delayed on returning home. 


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