Daphne du Maurier does a great line in torturous, dark love affairs set on the Cornish cost. I’ve basically summarised most of her books right there. Saying that, My Cousin Rachel is my favourite of them.
Philip is the young cousin and heir of Cornish landowner Ambrose. Together they manage the beloved family estate in Cornwall, sharing a life of duty and diligence. Ambrose’s failing health forces him to Italian climes where he meets and marries distant relative Rachel but dies from a mysterious illness not long afterwards. The alluring Rachel (who may or may not have been involved in foul play) comes to England to meet Philip.
Self-contained, it is set within the estate, drawing rooms, gardens, parishes and objects. The novel has a limited cast and sphere. We see little of Italy or the wider world, limited only to Philip’s narrow vision. Philip is young and intense, heady with emotion. His moods are mercurial, forcing you to remember the possibility of unrealiable narration. This uncertainty is key- it’s not a fun book if you know for sure Rachel is a femme fatale or an innocent woman.
Every time I read it, I find new shades and nuances, shifting with my mood and perspective. This is what makes it du Maurier’s best work for me- the swirling ambiguity and the contrast between dramatic tragedy and light drawing room drama combining to create a beautiful whole.
Read: If you’re in the mood for mind games