Book Talk: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Book Talk: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du MaurierMy Cousin Rachel Narrator: Jonathan Pryce
Length: 11 hrs, 57 mins
Published by Hachette Audio on September 16, 2014
Genres: Classics, Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
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Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly.

Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart.

Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet . . . might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?

Though I’ve owned a copy of Rebecca for years, and it’s been recommended to me by various friends for YEARS (hi, Heather!), My Cousin Rachel was my first Du Maurier novel. And, frankly, I’d never heard of it. But I was looking for an audiobook, and I do so love British narrators, so I thought I’d give it a go. Du Maurier mostly lived up to and exceeded my expectations, especially for a novel that’s not regarded as her best.

Fair warning that there will be SPOILERS up in here, because I want to talk about what happened and it came out a billion years ago (over fifty is basically a billion, right?), though I will not spoil (outside of tags) the ending of the book.

My Cousin Rachel is told from the POV of Philip Ashley, a deadly dull ponce of a man. He has inherited the estate of his personal hero/crush/idol/god Ambrose, who had previously gone to Italy for his health and spontaneously wed a much younger woman, Rachel (also, you guessed it, Philip’s cousin). Now, Philip suspects, in his massive man-brain, that something’s awry here because Ambrose brought Philip up to mistrust women. Ambrose had no interest in matrimony, just as Philip himself barely even knows any women. They were respectable, decided old bachelors, so clearly Rachel is a vicious, vile witch who seduced and murdered his uncle…right?

Philip’s prevailed upon to do right by his uncle’s widow, so, with much whining, he eventually invites her, with the plan of proving her the witch he knows her to be. Instead, Philip pretty much immediately develops the absolute biggest crush ever and wants nothing so much as for her to want him. Like, seriously, he’s known her for barely any time at all, and he hasn’t proved her innocence or anything, but she’s super hot so he decides to will all of his inheritance to her instead. Everyone’s like “yo, dude, maybe just settle a reasonable sum on this woman and not give away all your money?” and his dick’s all like “nah, man, she’ll be super impressed and give you all the blow jobs!” (Okay, I sort of doubt he actually knows about those, but instinctually his penis has ideas. Like, literally Philip gets his very first hard-on and loses all his principles and reason to do anything to make her like him. If this book isn’t an indictment of men, I don’t know what the fuck it is. Most of the book’s just about how stupid men are when they have feelings, because they have been actively trained not to know what to do with feelings. It’s amazing.

So eventually, Rachel agrees on his birthday to marry Philip, and he’s all like “Yay, my darling love, I have written Ambrose’s estate over to you and it takes affect today, the day of my birth.” She’s super stunned, obvs, because seriously, dude? The next morning, she’s all “yeah, so I actually do not want to marry you, but thanks and all.” So he fucking chokes her. Because this is how privileged men behave when they haven’t been properly socialized and they realize that women actually have fucking agency. And, like, yes, it sucks for him that she took back her acceptance, but that’s her prerogative, and I absolutely refuse to judge a woman in her situation with no home and no money for trying to find a way to survive. She was being practical, and when circumstances changed, so did she. He was an idiot, and she owes him nothing.

Of course, the fact that she doesn’t want him brings him back to the whole evil witch fantasy, because obviously if a woman doesn’t want your dick, she’s a monster. Just keep telling yourself that, boys. Actually, no, don’t. That’s the whole problem we still fucking have. He starts researching and becoming increasingly suspicious, and it’s pretty much impossible to tell what actually happened. Honestly, I’m still not sure (especially having read this two months ago), so don’t ask me. It’s one of those situations where, even if there had been a cut-and-dried “she totally did it,” I’d still have been unsure whether it was true, because Philip’s such an unreliable and biased narrator, who clearly isn’t emotionally sound. I was digging it, though, and I was actually totally ready for a boss and thought-provoking open ending.

But…

For the most part, I had the best time listening to this book. It was funny and feminist and penis-feels mocking, and I was absolutely here for it. But then the ending happened. THAT ENDING. Like, what even was that? I read this book a couple months ago now, and I honestly still have no fucking clue how to process it. What I do know is that it wasn’t what I would have wanted. There was space there to do something super mind-fuckyy or unexpected in a good way. Instead, My Cousin Rachel‘s ending is completely unpredictable in the absolute worst way possible. View Spoiler » I actually had to rewind the audiobook and listen to the last chapter again, because I was so confused. Like, no, there’s no way that just happened, but it so totally did.

I’m usually not a big fan of gothic novels, but I was engrossed in this one all the way through. Despite my frustration with the ending, I absolutely want to read more of her books, and I’d recommend this one, because it really made me think and has stuck with me in a way that inherently means it’s special. Maybe I’ll finally get to Rebecca!

Have any of you guys read this book? What did you think of the ending? Has anyone seen the film with Rachel Weisz? I’ve been considering it but the reviews were a bit tepid. Should I give it a go?

One response to “Book Talk: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier”

  1. Steena says:

    It’s been some time since I’ve read MCR so I might be missing something but I walked away from that book with a different understanding of the ending. I want to preserve the spoiler free space you’ve created here but my impression was that, just as Rachel’s innocence or guilt is never properly established, neither is Philip’s. Hes a VERY unreliable narrator and culpability is a potential.

    I still haven’t seen the new movie because I have children who ruin everything. BUT there’s also a 1952 version with Olivia De Havallind & Richard Burton that is properly ridoculous.

    And you absolutely need to read Rebecca; it’s her masterpiece though not my favorite. I’ll send you a copy of Jamaica Inn to follow up.

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