My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Oct 2, 2017

Nothing gets me in an October mood faster than a good Gothic mystery. Only, I didn't read this book in October but in the height (and heat) of summer.

Even though it had been on my to-read list for years, it wasn't my choice to read this book when I did. Naturally, I would have waited until autumn, the appropriate season in which to read it. But a friend in my neighborhood read it and then offered to lend me her copy, and since it was something I actually wanted to read at some future point, I agreed.

But I've discovered that I actually really dislike borrowing books from people for three reasons: 1) it forces me to read the book right then (or makes me feel guilty if I don't), and I like reading books on my own timetable (unless it's for book club) 2) if I don't end up liking the book, then I stress about what I'll say when they ask me what I thought about it, and 3) I spend the whole time worrying that I'm going to bend or scuff up or damage their book in some way.

Basically, I can't handle the pressure that comes with borrowing a book. I know people lend books to be nice, but give me the library and its hold lists and due dates and sturdy copies any day.

It actually felt a little wrong to read such a deliciously creepy and suspenseful read while the air conditioner was blowing and the sun was shining. I would have like to hide under a blanket, but it was too warm for that.

Philip Ashley leads a solitary life with his cousin (and guardian), Ambrose Ashley. Both bachelors, they understand each other perfectly and couldn't be more content. Because of ill health, Ambrose leaves the estate for Italy during the winter months. There, he meets the irrepressible Rachel and marries her, much to Philip's dismay. He knows having a woman around will disrupt the peaceful symmetry of their lives and holds a grudge against Rachel before he even meets her. He anticipates their return to England with dread, but it never happens. Ambrose gets violently ill and dies suddenly, but not before sending a couple of cryptic letters home that leave Philip very suspicious of Rachel.

Within a few weeks, Rachel makes her way to the estate with Ambrose's belongings. Philip is determined to show as little hospitality as possible, but then Rachel turns out to be just so darn likeable. In fact, it only takes a couple of days before he can see exactly why Ambrose wanted to marry her. And yet, how can he reconcile this picture of Rachel with the one he'd already conjured up?

Daphne du Maurier weaves a masterful tale that kept me guessing the entire time. One minute I loved Rachel, and then the next, I hated her, and always always the lingering question of whether or not to trust her. But it turns out that reading almost 400 pages with that heightened suspicion is actually rather exhausting, and my enthusiasm ran out well before the end of the story.

Plus, I rather detested Philip. He was rude, incredibly awkward, and just plain witless. By the end, I didn't care what happened to him, just so long as I didn't have to read about him anymore. I loved the writing in this one just as much as Rebecca, but Philip as the main character couldn't hold a candle to Mrs. de Winter, and so ultimately the story fell a little flat for me.


  1. I keep wanting to like du Maurier but like you I get tired of the characters before the book ends. Maybe I'm shallow? Did she write any short stories?

    I hope the boys are enjoying this year's Harry Potter. That one was my favorite.

  2. I read this one last fall, and I remember not being able to choose a favorite between it and Rebecca. I generally don't enjoy novels with male protagonists, but I didn't have a problem with Philip at all. I'll have to re-read it some day with your comments in mind!

    Incidentally, I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca last week, and it is stellar. If you haven't seen it, it's worth hunting down a copy. I don't always love Hitchcock (his films move too slowly for me), but this one blew me away. And as far as I remember, it's very faithful to the book.

  3. My thoughts exactly. I could not stand Philip.


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