DuMaurier's My Cousin Rachel
Phillip's uncle, Ambrose, leaves for a trip to the continent. At first the letters are jovial and full of travel foibles and memorable sights. After Ambrose marries Rachel and he decides to stay in Florence for the time being rather than return to Cornwell, the letters change. A darkness creeps into the lines, and Phillip becomes worried. Eventually, Ambrose sends a letter of distress that prompts Phillip to rush to Florence as quickly as possible. A sinister surprise meets him when he arrives that leaves a painful question: did Rachel play a role in Ambrose's dire situation?
DuMaurier, the master of the modern Gothic tale, unwinds a dark, psychological drama in this lesser known tale. At the center is Phillip Ashley, a immature, headstrong young man who stands to inherit great fortune, but does not know his own heart. Also, at center, is Rachel, a mysterious beautiful woman, who at once seems charming, delicate, vulnerable, yet potentially capable of great deceit.
The novel starts slowly, with an anguished vignette and then flashes back to the story that involves Rachel, Ambrose, and Phillip. The first chapter is almost best left to read after the novel is completed; very little makes sense until the context is given in the rest of the story. DuMaurier is brilliant with her pacing, and though she clearly follows a method of suspense writing, nothing is contrived or anticipated. The shocking events, carefully set conversations, and entry of characters, are placed artfully to push the reader along to the conclusion, which is excellent.
I am still trying to figure out what I think of this book. I would be interested in feedback from you. What did you think of Rachel at the end? Villian or victim?
If you liked this novel, you might also like:
Dumaurier's Rebecca - Similar suspense and atmosphere, interesting characters, same writing style and mystery.
Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale - another great example of modern Gothic, though this novel is darker and gritter than any DuMaurier work. The dark, menacing quality, mysterious characters, and beautiful, haunted house and landscape will remind you of DuMaurier's novels.
E. Bronte's Wuthering Heights - Same Gothic qualities. Heathcliff's character will keep you guessing like Rachel's.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret - Victorian novel in the vein of Wilkie Collins; Braddon questions the place of women in Victorian society. Like Rachel, Lady Audley is beautiful and perhaps not what she seems. Both of these women may be capable of deplorable acts.