“There are some women, Philip, good women, very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch turns to tragedy.”
My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne Du Maurier, is the story of one such woman and the disaster she wreaks in the lives of two men. Philip Ashley is orphaned at a young age and his cousin Ambrose, twenty years his senior, brings him up as his ward and his heir. At forty-three years of age, it seems unlikely that Ambrose will ever marry. But when his doctors send him to Italy to improve his health, Ambrose makes the acquaintance of a distant relative of his, a young widow named Rachel. Thrown together by their mutual passion for gardening, Ambrose becomes enamored with Rachel. Philip learns in a letter that his cousin and mentor has married and will not be returning home to England for some time.
Jealous of Ambrose’s new relationship, Philip sulks at home on the estate, his mind painting pictures of Rachel as a harpy, a monster, or worse. Ambrose’s letters become fewer and farther between till all of a sudden a startling epistle arrives. Ambrose’s distorted handwriting informs Philip that he is sick, perhaps unto death, and contains veiled intimations that his wife Rachel might be the one responsible for his sickness. Philip races to Florence but comes too late. Ambrose is dead, Rachel is gone, and no one can enlighten him as to her whereabouts. He returns home a sad man, but still the heir to Ambrose’s estate and fortune.
Weeks later the mysterious Rachel shows up in England to bring back her deceased husband’s personal effects. Philip, influenced by the paranoia in Ambrose’s last letter, has grown to hate the very thought of her. He is surprised to discover that she is merely an ordinary–and very likeable–woman. He invites her to stay for a while at the estate to meet the tenants and see the home that Ambrose loved so much. As the weeks go by, his liking for Rachel grows and grows. Scraps of unfinished letters by Ambrose surface directly accusing his wife of poisoning him, but by now Philip is too infatuated to pay them any attention. He is no longer interested in investigating whether Rachel murdered her husband, until the question finally arises: does she intend to do the same thing again?
I’ve been progressing at a snail’s pace through most of my books these days, a chapter here and there whenever I can fit it in. This book, however, only took me two days to complete. Written in the same suspenseful voice as Du Maurier’s masterpiece Rebecca, the book keeps you enthralled till the very end. The characters and settings are well described and memorable, and Ambrose Ashley’s line, “Rachel, my torment,” will echo with you long after you have closed the cover.