When one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person. – Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier is known for her effortless ease of narrating the most complex of plots in such a convincing first person voice that it seems to transcend the barriers of reality and virtuality. Her fictions seem to be the real life story of the main protagonist, truest to the core. Just as she amazingly slips into the shoes of Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca, du Maurier shows an equal level of dexterity in adopting a man’s voice and metamorphosing herself into the young Philip Ashley in My Cousin Rachel.
The backdrop of the two novels is somewhat similar: a large seaview manor house and estate nestled in the heart of Cornwall where men were perfectly comfortable enjoying their days with dogs and horses as their primary companions until women venture into their lives. Philip Ashley is a young man raised by his rich distant cousin Ambrose to whom he’s absolutely devoted to and the two of them share kind of a father son bonding. Both men are borderline misogynist or in milder terms, totally indifferent to women and happy in their own men’s world, until Ambrose travels abroad for health reasons only to fall in love with his (and also Philip’s) distant cousin Rachel.
After a whirlwind romance, Rachel and Ambrose settle down to a fairy tale marriage in Italy; unfortunately even before the honeymoon period is over, serious illness takes over Ambrose and he dies soon afterwards only to leave behind clues in his last letters to Philip that it’s not the illness, but rather a deliberate series of slow poisoning by Rachel and her paramour that’s responsible for his untimely death.
An investigation into Rachel’s past further strengthens the doubts and hatred in the heart of Philip for the possible killer of his cousin until Philip meets with Rachel in person and after some initial pulling back by his conscience, helplessly falls in love with Rachel. Soon afterwards, Philip falls ill mysteriously and suspicion overshadows his love for Rachel as he’s left wondering if he’s going to be the next victim to Rachel’s greed and murderous intent.
- Of course the first person writing style that du Maurier is so famous for; this time the challenge was even greater as du Maurier had to speak in an authentic man’s voice unlike the feminine tone she had adopted in Rebecca.
- The veil of confusion she castes over Philip and the readers: one moment the reader (and Philip) will be convinced of Rachel’s innocence and the next of her guilt. The dilemma to make a decision about Rachel’s core character adds a stunning flavor to the narration.
- The ending: just like Rebecca, comes within a few lines, leaves you in utter shock, makes you go back and read in between the lines again, and then leaves you with numerous questions about Philip’s actual intent and Philip’s fate. I really like the way du Maurier as always pushes the ball finally into the reader’s court and offers him the liberty to decide what the truth could have been instead of telling him what the truth actually was. It’s this shroud of unanswered riddles that makes her works so special!
- Although I hate to pick any serious flaws, as a reader I did lose my attention at some points and would have loved the novel more had it been a little shorter. It kind of drags on towards the middle, although the beginning and the end are pretty neat.