Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Do you have books that as soon as you finished reading them, you were sorry the story ended? Or maybe you would read the story slower than usual, savoring every phrase and paragraph as one would savor a favorite piece of candy, because you didn’t want to part with it too soon? I hope you do and you would because I think that such books are the grand reward for reading altogether. And My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier was such a book for me.

It is a typical gothic mystery but at its best. A distant cousin Rachel bewitches Mr. Ambrose Ashley during one of his winter stays in Italy. Ambrose leaves his beloved estate in Cornwall every year in winter due to health problems, leaving his cousin, Philip Ashley, to look after the household. Ambrose raised Philip from infancy and it is no wonder that a twenty-four-year old boy loves Ambrose as his father and mother both. It is further no wonder that Philip is shocked and jealous of the mysterious cousin Rachel who he thinks stole Ambrose from him. The quick marriage ends as abruptly and unpredictably as it started. Mr. Ashley dies suddenly in Italy without ever having returned to Cornwall with his new bride. And now, cousin Rachel appears at the doorsteps of the Ashley’s estate leaving Philip with no choice but to make her welcome as the widow of Mr. Ambrose Ashley. Philip’s attitude towards her and the amount of trust he is willing to place in her will ultimately decide whether she is a woman of virtue but a victim of unfortunate circumstances or a conniving person with evil purposes.

As you can tell from my opening paragraph, I genuinely enjoyed My Cousin Rachel. It is one of the classics that I know I will be returning to time and again. The language was poetic and captured my attention right at the beginning. Mind you, I am not a fan of poetry, but when such flawless tone and manner of writing as we find in classic poems is engaged in a novel, I instantly fall in love with it. That is the case with du Maurier. There aren’t, after all, many novels out there from which I want to commit to memory passages found in the first ten pages. One such quote jumped at me right when I started reading My Cousin Rachel. It’s short but beautiful and strangely reflective of my own character:
“Disliking our fellow men, we craved attention; but shyness kept impulse dormant until the heart was touched.”(p.6)

That’s only a small taste of what Ms. du Maurier could do but it portrays perfectly, in my opinion, how there really is no need for elaborate descriptions of character, to capture the essence. And here goes my next point. Du Maurier’s writing in My Cousin Rachel, as in her other books, is an exquisite example of the golden rule for authors to show and not tell. While the descriptions of Cornwall’s natural landscape are rich but never boring, I could probably count on my fingers the times that any adjectives were used to describe the characters in the novel. And I came to know them like my own family or at least next door neighbors. Not once were I confused or frustrated by such a thing as lack of depth and trust me, I don’t think that the word “one-dimensional” ever existed in du Maurier’s dictionary. I think you get my feelings about My Cousin Rachel by now. I enjoyed it so much that I already wish I could read it again for the first time.

Special Thanks to Danielle J. from Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this book.
Don’t forget to enter my “Happy Birthday Daphne!” giveaway, if you haven’t already! It ends on May 31st.

Book Info
Title: My Cousin Rachel
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Published in: 2009
By: Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.