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After falling in love with Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca", I've read a lot more of her work. I've not been disappointed with any of her novels, and "My Cousin Rachel" is no exception to the usual high standard of her work.
Ambrose, Philip's guardian since the loss of both parents at an early age, travels abroad to Italy for the sake of his health where he meets, falls in love with and marries "my cousin Rachel". Months later, Philip receives a disturbing letter from Ambrose concerning the state of his health, which also hints at Rachel's involvement in his illness. On travelling to Italy to investigate, Philip finds Ambrose dead, and Rachael has departed.
Philip returns to England to take up residence in the estate which he has now inherited from Ambrose. Shortly thereafter Rachel invites herself to stay with Philip in the house which she would have shared with Ambrose had he lived. Philip accepts, with the intention that he will question Rachel on her involvement in Ambrose's death and mete out her punishment accordingly. However, on meeting Rachel, Philip becomes enthralled with her and will entertain no doubts as to her character and honour. The remainder of the novel follows the developing relationship between Philip and Rachel as Philip comes of age and therefore, into full ownership of Ambrose's estate.
Throughout the entire book the true reality of the situation remains elusive. Told through the eyes of Philip, the reader can only guess at the reliability of his perceptions and observations. Two main questions dominate the book:
1. Did Rachel murder Ambrose and does she try likewise to murder Philip?
2. Does Rachel love Philip or is she using him for her own financial gain?
These questions remain entirely unanswered, even at the end of the book where the reader remains uncertain as to the guilt or innocence of both Rachel and Philip. Du Maurier teases the reader with hints on every single page, but in the end the reader is left to make up their own mind.
The book could be read as an anti-feminist novel, based on Rachel's use of her charms to manipulate both Ambrose and Philip to her financial gain. However, the book also has more subtle feminist tones. Rachel can also be seen as a victim. The world in which Ambrose and Philip live is male dominated (for example, their home is staffed only by male servants) and both men can be seen to use their financial wealth to control Rachel. Philip is, in the end, willing to give up his entire inheritance in order to secure Rachel's hand in marriage. The premise that Rachel has killed Ambrose is turned on its head at the end of the book by the suggestion that Philip is responsible for Rachel's eventual death, successfully reversing the implication that Rachel, or the manipulative woman, is the guilty party, and transferring the guilt to Philip, the male figurehead.
The book can be read on two levels, either as a simple story of female guile and manipulation, or as a more subtle work. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. The book is a typical du Maurier novel which exemplifies the author's masterful use of suspense.
I threw the piece of paper on the fire. She saw it burn ...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. In almost no time at all, the new widow - Philip's cousin Rachel - turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet ...might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?