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My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, a book review

“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!

Story Spotting Weekend in Cornwall

Fowey Hall Hotel image from Tripadvisor

My boyfriend and I have just returned from a long weekend in Cornwall staying at Fowey Hall Hotel which Toad Hall in Wind in The Willows is said to be based on. The hotel is really pretty and a great place to stay, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It doesn’t overtly show off its Wind in The Willows connection, but there are subtle touches if you keep an eye out (room names, toads in the drawing-room, breakfast menus decorated with motor cars filled with woodland creatures…) I was delighted that our room was called Ratty.


Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn Courtyard

On our way home today we went past The Jamaica Inn of Daphne Du Maurier fame. I am a massive fan of Daphne Du Maurier, and kind of see her books as the natural progression for any Bronte fan, so it was really interesting interesting to see the Inn that inspired the novel, but the inside was really disappointing. As most of the trade is probably going to be from tourists who want to see the Inn made famous by the book, I guess you don’t have to do very much to keep them coming, though the website is really slick and it runs as a hotel so I had quite high hopes for the Inn itself. The food was school canteen horrible and the lack of atmosphere was made worse by some cartoonish waxworks in the smugglers’ bar, a noisy fridge, fruit machines, radio 1 blaring and bored teenage staff loudly gossiping about their Saturday nights while ignoring the customers. A bit of a let down, which was so disappointing considering how brilliant it could be with just a little bit of effort.

Daphne Du Maurier Desk

Daphne Du Maurier’s Writing Desk

Fortunately, the Smuggler’s Museum at The Jamaica Inn was quite interesting and the lady working on the entrance desk was lovely. I got to see Daphne Du Maurier’s desk which was a bonus, but if you go, I would almost be tempted to skip the inn itself until they can do proper catering and just take a picnic to eat outside. Though if you want to be authentic, you should skip food altogether and wander around the moors in driving winter rain.