My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier: Disturbing Gothic Enigma

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Rating: Red StarRed StarRed StarRed StarRed Star

Category: Gothic Romance

Content Warnings: Death of close family member, grief, capital punishment, terminal illness, violence, domestic abuse

Synopsis:

“Someday, somehow, I would repay my cousin Rachel.”

Ambrose has been like a father to Philip, raising him single-handedly ever since the death of his parents. They live undisturbed on their Cornish estate, surrounded entirely by men – not even a female housekeeper. So when Ambrose travels abroad for his health, only to send word he has fallen in love and married, it is understandable for Philip to be jealous.

His feelings of hatred towards this woman only increase when Ambrose dies in Italy, with his new wife by his side. Philip is left the grand estate, but no chance to say goodbye. However, this bitterness soon alleviates upon meeting Ambrose’s widow, the beautiful and enigmatic Rachel. He may be falling for her. And that may be exactly what she wants.

Review:

First Page Impressions

My Cousin Rachel is often described as Gothic, a genre which I find can be somewhat languid and full of surfeiting descriptions. In this case, though, I was captivated from the start by such a disturbing story that revels in its own ambiguity.

Du Maurier managed to write a psychological thriller before psychological thrillers were even a thing!

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier Book Review Pinterest Graphic

Final Page Reflections

I freely admit to indulging my dark side through literature. Any unsettling and deliciously subversive novel is one that I will embrace, and the synopsis of My Cousin Rachel was too tantalizing to ignore.

Not only does this book have a disturbing premise, but du Maurier combines this with razor-sharp execution. There’s an unreliable narrator, oppressive Gothic atmosphere, violent undertones, suspense, an intense romance. Not to mention the unforgettable character of Rachel herself, a mysterious Lady Macbeth-esque transgressive woman.

Mood

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier Mood Cloud

Diversity and Representation

Rachel is presented as a transgressive female Other; misogyny is therefore present in the novel, but it exists for the author to challenge it. In this way, My Cousin Rachel is progressive for a novel published in the early 1950s.

However, Rachel’s Italian heritage is often presented in a very stereotypical and demeaning manner.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier Quote
Fund Literacy, Care for the Environment

Themes

  • Femininity
  • Trust
  • Truth and deception
  • Family
  • Jealousy
  • Romance
  • Greed
  • Innocence and experience
  • Guilt
  • Power

Beyond the Book

The portrayal of transgressive women in literature has often been employed in their Othering and alienation. I love reading how female writers such as Daphne du Maurier reclaim these representations as a means of illustrating women’s power.

Continued Contemplation

  1. Do you enjoy ambiguous endings or do you prefer the story to be more neatly tied up?
  2. Daphne du Maurier’s novels are often dismissed as middle-brow due to the emphasis on plot. Do you think novels with more plot-centric suspense are concerned primarily with entertainment rather than emotional impact and aesthetic value?
  3. Rachel is often interpreted based on the personality of the author, who was perceived as part restrained English lady and part empowered bisexual woman. Do you think we should use the author’s biography to alter our understanding of their book?

Favourite quote:

“There must be something in the nature of love between a man and a woman that drove them to torment and suspicion.”

Read if: You want to be brought to the edge of your seat by an enigmatic psychological drama.

Buy Now on Better World Books:

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If you enjoyed My Cousin Rachel, you may also like Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.


Have you read My Cousin Rachel or any other books by Daphne du Marier? What did you think? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!


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10 thoughts on “My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier: Disturbing Gothic Enigma

  1. Great review! I’m planning to read this one next month and really looking forward to it. Winter is a perfect time for dark and gothic stories, I think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thank you very much Charlotte! 🥰 It’s certainly very intriguing, one of those books you genuinely can’t put down. I’m the opposite way around – I didn’t know there was a film and now I really want to watch it, so thank you for sharing! X x x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review. I’ve always loved the way that Du Maurier keeps us guessing about what’s really going on in all her novels and for most of the book we’re left guessing whether Rachel is a positive or negative character. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out Rebecca or Jamaica Inn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind comment, I really appreciate it! ❤️ I completely agree that du Maurier is amazing at suspense and ambiguity. Thank you for the recommendations – I’ve read Rebecca and loved that one too, but Jamaica Inn is going on the list! X x x

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you so much for kindly mentioning my blog – you’ve made my day! I also love reading your reviews, as you read such a variety of genres and it encourages me to try something new ❤️ X x x

      Like

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