Read by Jonathan Pryce
Published in 1951
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
Publisher's Summary:Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?
Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca has long been a favorite, one of the few books I've read more than once; I've both wanted to read more of her work and been afraid that nothing could live up to that book. My Cousin Rachel doesn't. Which isn't to say that this isn't a terrific book. It is, made all the better by Jonathan Pryce's reading of the book (he may be my new favorite book reader).
Did she or didn't she?
Philip has been raised on an estate that women rarely breach and Philip has spent his life being the lone person to whom Ambrose shows real affection. So it comes as no surprise that Philip is jealous when Ambrose announces that he has married their cousin, Rachel and no surprise that Philip suspects foul play on Rachel's part when Ambrose dies suddenly. But Philip seems to be the only person who suspects Rachel of causing Ambrose's death; others mostly tut-tutting him because of his youth and jealousy.
But letters that Philip has received from Ambrose that more than hint of Rachel's hand in the decline of his health and discoveries Philip makes when he arrives, too late to help Ambrose, in Florence reinforce his certainty that Ambrose did not die from natural causes. Philip isn't the only one who has doubts - du Maurier makes certain that readers do as well. Rachel's friend, Rainaldi, practically twirls the ends of his mustache as he looks down his nose at Philip (and Ambrose) and anytime he appears in the picture, we are convinced that he is involved. But is he manipulating Rachel or is he her partner? Or is he, while maybe trying to help Rachel benefit from her marriage to Ambrose, entirely innocent of complicity in Amrose's death?
When Rachel arrives unexpectedly in England, she quickly wins over the staff of the estate, Philip's guardian, and, before long, Philip himself who falls in love with Rachel. Philip is set to inherit Ambrose's estate on his 25th birthday. But when he discovers a letter from Ambrose that reveals the existence of a will that had never been signed leaving everything to Rachel during her lifetime, Philip becomes determined that he should do the same. Blindly, he overlooks all signs that Rachel is not the person he thinks she is and refuses to listen to the one person who suggests otherwise.
But did she or didn't she?
du Maurier keeps readers wondering throughout the book. I never trusted her but then I'd read Rebecca and had some idea the kinds of characters du Maurier created. I wanted to slap Philip again and again for being so quick to be taken in by Rachel and so stubborn about seeing the truth. But was it the truth or perfectly innocent coincidences? Just how long can someone keep up the act of being kind and caring if she's not, in fact, kind and caring? Who just who is the most cold-hearted person here?
If you like tidy endings, du Maurier is not for you. Those last twenty-five or so pages are the payoff for the patience readers have shown. In the end, du Maurier circles back to where the book started. Yet the question remains.
Did she or didn't she?