by Daphne Du Maurier
Plot Summary:Philip Ashley's older cousin Ambrose, who raised the orphaned Philip as his own son, has died in Rome. Philip, the heir to Ambrose's beautiful English estate, is crushed that the man he loved died far from home. He is also suspicious. While in Italy, Ambrose fell in love with Rachel, a beautiful English and Italian woman. But the final, brief letters Ambrose wrote hint that his love had turned to paranoia and fear.
Now Rachel has arrived at Philip's newly inherited estate. Could this exquisite woman, who seems to genuinely share Philip's grief at Ambrose's death, really be as cruel as Philip imagined? Or is she the kind, passionate woman with whom Ambrose fell in love? Philip struggles to answer this question, knowing Ambrose's estate, and his own future, will be destroyed if his answer is wrong.
Review:This is a suspense story that takes it's time to build. While the narrator, Philip, reminisces about what happened with his cousin Rachel, the reader is constantly left guessing until about Rachel's true intentions and her past.
Philip Ashley is not a character I liked a whole lot as I read more about him. He's sheltered and a curious mixture of phlegmatic detachment and impulsive immaturity, prone to jumping to conclusions and acting on them without much thought, while also keeping his emotions locked away as much as possible. For a character to be so introverted I suppose I thought he would have been more thoughtful and aware. But as a narrator he was perfect to tell this story because he was not equal to dealing with Rachel who had charm and sophistication and plenty of secrets to keep the reader on edge. And while you couldn't trust Rachel, you equally couldn't trust Philip which kept increasing the suspense.
I can't talk too much about Rachel without revealing the basic plot point of this book - did she bring about the murder of Ambrose Ashley and is she planning something similar for Philip, or is she innocent and all the evidence against her merely circumstantial. It's difficult to determine, and conflicting information avalanches the reader from the beginning, so that there is an aspect to the ending that feels very open to interpretation. I have my own feeling one way or the other about Rachel and I found the way I interpreted the ending to have a very profound effect on me, which showed me that the way this plot was built was very effective. The story's pace flags at times - especially in the beginning before Rachel arrives, but I think the story is so well written, and paints the characters in such murky lights that the novel is ultimately very intriguing and satisfying.
The other aspect that was so intriguing about this book - which was really brought home by the ending - is the power of femininity over a man. Rachel holds this sway over more than one man, and yet all of her power comes from feminine charm and interest. She's contrasted very well with Louise, who is Philip's childhood friend and long thought to be the girl he would marry. Philip treats her terribly though, especially when he becomes obsessed with Rachel, but Louise remains steadfast and loyal and yet not very effective. It's interesting to read how these two women work, and how Rachel is much more effective at snaring attention than Louise.
The setting in this book created a wonderfully immersive atmosphere - from the heat and opulence of Italy to the solid strength and beauty of Cornwall, I felt like I was in those countries, experiencing the emotional twists and turns in this story. It keeps you guessing, and packs an emotional punch by the end.
Third read for Classics Club Challenge