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Genre Gothic Romance
Format Paperback (borrowed from library)
Other Formats Available Hardback, ebook, audiobook
Publication Date 1951
Length 352 pages
Death of close family member, grief, capital punishment, terminal illness, violence, domestic abuse
What It’s About
“Someday, somehow, I would repay my cousin Rachel.”
Ambrose has been like a father to Philip, raising him single-handedly ever since the death of his parents. They live undisturbed on their Cornish estate, surrounded entirely by men – not even a female housekeeper. So when Ambrose travels abroad for his health, only to send word he has fallen in love and married, it is understandable for Philip to be jealous.
His feelings of hatred towards this woman only increase when Ambrose dies in Italy, with his new wife by his side. Philip is left the grand estate, but no chance to say goodbye. However, this bitterness soon alleviates upon meeting Ambrose’s widow, the beautiful and enigmatic Rachel. He may be falling for her. And that may be exactly what she wants.
My Cousin Rachel is often described as Gothic, a genre which I find can be somewhat languid and full of surfeiting descriptions. In this case, though, I was captivated from the start by such a disturbing story that revels in its own ambiguity.
Du Maurier managed to write a psychological thriller before psychological thrillers were even a thing!
I freely admit to indulging my dark side through literature. Any unsettling and deliciously subversive novel is one that I will embrace, and the synopsis of My Cousin Rachel was too tantalizing to ignore.
Not only does this book have a disturbing premise, but du Maurier combines this with razor-sharp execution. There’s an unreliable narrator, oppressive Gothic atmosphere, violent undertones, suspense, an intense romance. Not to mention the unforgettable character of Rachel herself, a mysterious Lady Macbeth-esque transgressive woman.
Diversity and Representation
Rachel is presented as a transgressive female Other; misogyny is therefore everywhere in the novel, but it exists for the author to challenge it. In this way, My Cousin Rachel is progressive for a novel published in the early 1950s.
However, Rachel’s Italian heritage is often presented in a very stereotypical and demeaning manner.
- Truth and deception
- Innocence and experience
Beyond the Book
The portrayal of transgressive women in literature has often been employed in their Othering and alienation. I love reading how female writers such as Daphne du Maurier reclaim these representations as a means of illustrating women’s power.
If you’re reading My Cousin Rachel as a book club pick, or just looking to ponder the story in more depth, these questions should help get you started:
- Do you enjoy ambiguous endings or do you prefer the story to be more neatly tied up?
- Daphne du Maurier’s novels are often dismissed as middle-brow due to the emphasis on plot. Do you think novels with more plot-centric suspense are concerned primarily with entertainment rather than emotional impact and aesthetic value?
- Rachel is often interpreted based on the personality of the author, who was perceived as part restrained English lady and part empowered bisexual woman. Do you think we should use the author’s biography to alter our understanding of their book?
“There must be something in the nature of love between a man and a woman that drove them to torment and suspicion.”~ Daphne du Maurier, ‘My Cousin Rachel’
You want to be brought to the edge of your seat by an enigmatic psychological drama.
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Have you read My Cousin Rachel or any other books by Daphne du Maurier? What did you think? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!