Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Cousin Rachel ~ Daphne du Maurier

So, I'm very behind on posting my complaint review of The Fellowship of the Ring, but you've pretty much heard it already if you've read my complaint review of The Hobbit so let's just save that for another day and plow on, shall we?

I decided to read My Cousin Rachel entirely on a whim, and also because Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick told me to.  And, since I am now a proud Audible subscriber (seriously, oh uninitiated, it's great) I was able to just get it and have it and now it's mine.  Ah, capitalism.  Also, I've been meaning to read more du Maurier since I enjoyed Rebecca a while back, so this was as good an excuse as any.

A brief summary: Philip Ashley, heir to his cousin Ambrose, who raised him, is shocked when his cousin dies suddenly in Italy, after traveling there for his health and marrying a cousin that he stumbled across there (this is, I think, the 18th century - just go with it).  A couple of suspicious letters from Ambrose in his last days lead Philip to mistrust his cousin Rachel, but all that is forgotten when she arrives in England to deliver Ambrose's belongings and starts bossing charming Philip.  But Rachel is impulsive with money and inconsistent with her affections, and her true motives are unknown.

It was kind of interesting listening to My Cousin Rachel right after Gone Girl.  They share several themes and plot elements: a mysterious death; a strong woman with suspicious motives; an inconsistent man; money as means of control; men controlling women; and hopeless, violent love.  These elements are the basis of many plots and many lives, but the connections between the two novels was surprising, with that constant question of what is the truth and who is to blame?  Unlike Gone Girl, there are no clear answers in My Cousin Rachel - the reader is left to decide for herself who is guilty and who is not, and it's only in the final minutes (or pages, if you are so inclined) that the text really leads you one way or another - but it's still not quite conclusive.

Philip was a wonderfully constructed character and a fantastic example of an unreliable narrator - I could empathize with him greatly, in his emotional responses to Ambrose's letters and Rachel's presence and conflicting behaviors, but at the same time I was completely annoyed by him.  He is so childish - either feels nothing or feels in excess, with no ability to moderate his emotions.  As much as he blames Rachel for being impulsive, he is too - any way his feelings turn, he performs some incomprehensible, irreversible action that he will later come to regret.  And his attitude towards women isn't even reasonable for his time.  He works so hard to control Rachel, who he supposedly loves, that one can't help but wonder what love even means, at least to him.  Sure, he makes a gift to her of his entire inheritance - but there are so many strings attached that it's only by Rachel subverting his sexist expectations of women that she escapes his clutches.  It's really quite despicable.

It was a really good book, but I wish that I had read it on paper, rather than listened to it on audiobook. Don't get me wrong, the performer was very good, with great inflections and subtle but distinct accent changes for dialogue - but the book itself is much too quiet and unsensational to really stand up on its own on audio.  It took me a while to get into the listening experience and really become captivated.  It's the kind of book that needs quiet and calm and a cup of tea, so that the eeriness and tension can sneak up around you.

Edit: Here's a great discussion of how the male gaze affects our reading of the novel and ability, or lack thereof, to ever really know Rachel and what she has or hasn't done.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, I'm glad you listened to it on audio (yay,!), but so sorry it didn't resonate with you as much me when I listened to it! I wonder if it was because of coming off of Gone Girl? Ah, who knows, but the beauty of is being able to try a different format of "reading" especially when super-busy. I fell madly in love with Jonathan Pryce and I *think* I felt Philip's naivete even more so because I could hear the inflections and Pryce's tone. However, on to the next one! :)