31 October 2007

Book Review: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

R.I.P. II Challenge #5

My Cousin Rachel Philip Ashley’s cousin Ambrose goes to Italy in search of a healthier climate, he winds up married. Half-English Rachel is a distant connection of the family and the widow of the Count Sangaletti. At firs all seems well; then Philip begins receiving odd letters from Ambrose that prompt him to make a dash across the Continent. But in the time before trains such journeys were slow, and by the time he arrives Ambrose is dead, Rachel is gone, and Philip is very suspicious. Returning to England, he learns that Rachel is on her way to Cornwall and decides to confront her. But when he meets her she charms him at once, causing him to forget that she might be a murderess. Indeed, to the horror of his guardian he becomes quite besotted, though for everything that seems to prove her innocence there is something else to suggest her guilt. It will take a decisive piece of evidence for him to decide one way or another.

During the first half of the book, I quite enjoyed it; the mystery was well set up, I was curious to know the explanation for the letters, and there was a promising maybe-villain in the form of Rachel’s confidante Rainaldi. But just past the halfway mark it began to fall apart somewhat, largely because of Philip. It was highly appropriate that his birthday was 1 April, because he acted like a prize fool. It was no wonder his poor guardian was so alarmed; if it was entirely up to him, he would have handed over his entire inheritance to Rachel. As it was he made a very good attempt at doing so, which was a drastic turnaround from his vows of revenge. While I initially liked Philip - du Maurier is very good at writing introverted characters - I ended up losing patience with him and wishing he’d listen to his godfather, or at the very least come up with a workable plan to prove her guilt or innocence beyond doubt. Although, in his defence, I should say that I couldn’t work out whether she was a poisoner or not, either. Once he discovered the truth, though, he did do something, which wrapped the book up very neatly.

Rating: C

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776