Category Archives: Classics

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

“But a lonely man is an unnatural man, and soon comes to perplexity. From perplexity to fantasy. From fantasy to madness.” My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

I don’t get as much time to read as I used to (and even less time to write blog posts that do more than scratch the surface of books) but I was determined to read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier before the Roger Michell directed film version starring Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz hit the cinemas, or at least before going to see it.

For readers who first encountered Daphne du Maurier through her most famous novel Rebecca and have loved her works ever since, My Cousin Rachel doesn’t disappoint, offering the same rugged Cornish landscape, with a plot featuring stately piles, mystery, romance and intrigue which keeps twisting and turning to the very end.

In My Cousin Rachel, Philip Ashley takes on the role of naïve narrator, whose comfortable existence is rocked when his beloved cousin Ambrose Ashley dies abroad, shortly after his marriage to Philip’s mysterious cousin Rachel. The official verdict is that Ambrose has died of a fever, which was further complicated by a brain tumour that lead to violent delusions, but Philip believes that there is some truth to the letter Ambrose has sent him begging for help and suggesting that his wife has poisoned him. Philip vows revenge upon Rachel, and soon has this in his sights when she arrives at his house to return Ambrose’s belongings. But Rachel is every bit as charming as Ambrose made out, and despite his suspicions, Philip finds himself increasingly drawn to the attractive widow.

Though My Cousin Rachel has a huge amount to recommend it, what stands out for me is the psychological complexity of the novel. Despite being the titular character, Rachel remains something of an enigmatic figure, in part a vulnerable woman living at the mercy of her erratic relative, in part a woman with huge power to entice, heal and potentially destroy, we receive almost all of her history and description through other characters which means her actions can never receive a straightforward interpretation. Philip’s progression from his self-perception as something of a man of the world who has modelled himself on his idol, sees him move from outright misogyny to falling into a deep obsession, acting out an Oedipal complex with his father figure’s widow who oscillates wildly between being an object of desire and a symbol of destruction in his mind.

It’s enough to make you want to go on a Daphne du Maurier binge all summer. And I’m going to Cornwall soon…  as to whether Rachel is guilty or innocent, I’m keeping spoilers out for my review for those who have yet to read it, but let’s discuss in the comments!

The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This evening I have been forced out of my sitting room while my boyfriend and two of his friends play a football game on the Playstation.

I don’t care about that though, because I am curled up in my rocking chair in the dining room flicking through this beautiful copy of The Nutcracker illustrated by the late, great Maurice Sendak who died earlier this year. Isn’t it gorgeous? My photographs don’t do justice to the luxurious feel of the paper or the comforting weight of a nice hardback book, but they do show the charm and colour of the illustrations.

pictures 033 - Copy

Front cover

Many headed mouse king

Toy shop

So, I’ve got a good book, tea and a tin of Christmas biscuits. All I’m missing is some little people to read it to, but I’m not planning to do anything about that just yet! If you do have some little people, I think The Nutcracker would make a great bedtime story, a chapter a night in the run up to Christmas and they days that follow. It’s not too late to get yourself a copy either, the ISBN is 978-0-385-34864-5, ask your book shop to order a copy for you, mine gets them in the very next day.

I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader, though sadly it won’t reach you in time for Christmas. If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning, just email me your address with the subject The Nutcracker to bookandbiscuit@hotmail.co.uk

 

The Crock of Gold- James Stephens

When a meddling Philosopher helps his neighbour steal a crock of gold belonging to the leprechauns of Gort na Gloca Mora, they are not happy. But as he is married to a powerful member of the Shee, and the crock is buried under a thorn bush and therefore protected by all the fairies in Ireland, they have to be very careful as to how they get their revenge but suffice it to say it involves long journeys, strange meetings, ancient gods, young maidens, policemen and strangers aplenty.

Recently reissued by John Murray publishers as part of their newly issued Heritage Collection which revisits classics from their backlist, The Crock of Gold was written in 1912 by James Stephens, a contemporary of James Joyce. For me, the prose had some of the density of Joyce, but was much livelier, combining folklore, philosophy and a good dash of humour to create a good old Irish yarn.

I always love a novel which makes good use of folkloric motifs and storytelling conventions, but that aside, I loved James Stephens’ wry comments on the battle of the sexes and his characterisation generally. The dynamic between the Philosopher and his wife is especially interesting.

For all the novel talks a lot of nonsense, it talks a lot of sense. A great read if you like traditional storytelling.