Review: My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelNear the end of Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, the protagonist, Philip Ashley, reflects:

“My tutor at Harrow, when teaching in Fifth Form, told us once that truth was something intangible, unseen, which sometimes we stumbled upon and did not recognise, but was found, and held, and understood only by old people near their death, or sometimes by the very pure, the very young.” (316)

Philip was raised by his cousin, Ambrose, who travels to Italy for his health and meets a mysterious woman named Rachel. Ambrose, a confirmed bachelor, surprises everyone by marrying Rachel. Before Ambrose is able to return to Cornwall with his bride, he falls sick and dies. At first Philip is sure that his new cousin Rachel bears responsibility, but when Rachel appears at his door in Cornwall, he quickly becomes entranced by her. But is she guilty of Ambrose’s death?

I picked up this book because I love, love, love Rebecca. This book is not quite as good as Rebecca, but once again, du Maurier’s gift for rendering the Cornish coast setting and for creating interesting, troubled characters is on display in My Cousin Rachel. Rachel reminded me in many ways of Rebecca, the titular character of du Maurier’s more famous work. Even upon finishing the book, I’m still not sure what to think, and I admire the way du Maurier deftly tied the beginning to the end and brought the story around full circle. I very much enjoyed the minor characters in this book, as well. Seecombe, the butler, was particularly enjoyable. I didn’t have the sense of reading a book so gripping I couldn’t put it down, which did happen with Rebecca, but I certainly found My Cousin Rachel enjoyable. I picked it up to read for the R. I. P. Challenge, but I didn’t finish it in time. I do think that readers who enjoyed Rebecca will like this book, too, but as I said, it’s no Rebecca. Truthfully, though, few books are. I’ve been looking for a gothic read of Rebecca‘s caliber for some time now with no luck.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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A Young Girl Reading

Five Things I’ve Gained from Reading

A Young Girl Reading
A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Carol Jago, an English teacher I admire, published a paper several years ago about why we should teach literature. In reply, Traci Gardner suggested we share what we’ve gained from reading literature. I’m not sure if Traci’s familiar with memes, but I like the idea. That said, this blog post has been sitting waiting to be finished since April 2009. Time to post it.

Instructions: Copy the questions and instructions below, and paste them into a blog entry, a note on Facebook, or a discussion forum—anywhere that you can reach the people you want to. You can use the comments area on this blog entry if you’d like as well. Delete my answers to the questions, and add your own. Feel free to any extra instructions or invite specific people to answer the questions when you post them.

Questions: Think about the literature you’ve read—short stories, novels, plays, memoirs, and poetry. Any literature counts, from picture books to epic poems, and from romance novels to sci-fi fan-fiction. Answer each question, and explain your response in a few sentences. Just copy the questions, remove my answers, add your own, and then invite others to respond.

  1. What piece of literature has stayed with you, even though you haven’t read it recently?
    One piece of literature I find myself thinking about a lot is [amazon_link id=”0380730405″ target=”_blank” ]Rebecca[/amazon_link]. We just watched the movie the other night, for one thing, but for another, I have been searching and searching for a book with that same sort of feel. I love that book, and I’ve been looking for one like without much success.
  2. What character or story has influenced something you’ve done?
    You’re going to laugh, but I married my husband because of [amazon_link id=”0440212561″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link]. For a lot of reasons. He knows and thinks it’s funny.
  3. What character or piece of literature seemed to relate to a recent news story or personal experience?
    I don’t know that the story is all that recent, but when the Rod Blagojevich story blew up, I immediately thought of [amazon_link id=”0743477103″ target=”_blank” ]Macbeth[/amazon_link]. Then the comparisons started coming. Now I feel like I see Macbeth everywhere, which is really frightening. So many people seem willing to lose themselves entirely to their ambition. Politicians especially. And the way they play with human lives is disgusting. We might as well all be the Macduffs. In which case, the politicians better watch it if we decide we’ve had enough one day.
  4. What character has make you wonder why he or she did/said something?
    This is a tough one because there are a lot of characters who make me wonder this sort of thing. I hardly know which one to choose! But I always wondered if Boo Radley really did stab his father with the scissors, and if he really did, why? Actually I wonder a lot about Boo Radley (rather like Scout!).
  5. Name something from a work of literature (such as a character, setting, or quotation) that you find beautiful or vivid.
    [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] has so many beautiful and vivid passages. Here are some of my favorite ones.

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

 

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

 

And here is another of my favorites, from [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell To Arms[/amazon_link]:

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

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Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Top Ten Books for People Who Like X

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Oooh, I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesday in a while, and even though it’s technically Thursday, this one looks like too much fun to pass up. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books for People Who like ______. I’ve been unpacking my books, and I’ve been thinking about the connections among my different reads. My husband made the remark today that we have a lot of good books, and we really shouldn’t need to go to the bookstore in a while given how many great books we have. He’s right.

  1. If you like the [amazon asin=0545162076&text=Harry Potter] books, you should try Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: [amazon asin=0142001805&text=The Eyre Affair], [amazon asin=0142004030&text=Lost in a Good Book], [amazon asin=0143034359&text=The Well of Lost Plots], [amazon asin=014303541X&text=Something Rotten], [amazon asin=0143113569&text=Thursday Next: First Among Sequels], [amazon asin=0143120514&text=One of Our Thursdays is Missing], and joining the ranks in October, [amazon asin=067002502X&text=The Woman Who Died A Lot]. Jasper Fforde’s series is hilarious bookish fun, and even has a few references to the Harry Potter series.
  2. If you like Emily Brontë’s classic [amazon asin=0143105434&text=Wuthering Heights], you will enjoy Sharyn McCrumb’s historical fiction retelling of the infamous Tom Dooley case, [amazon asin=0312558171&text=The Ballad of Tom Dooley]. McCrumb herself has described the novel as Wuthering Heights in the Appalachians, and it’s true. The story’s characters greatly resemble their counterparts in Wuthering Heights in many ways. I loved it.
  3. If you liked [amazon asin=143918271X&text=A Moveable Feast] or [amazon asin=0743297334&text=The Sun Also Rises] by Ernest Hemingway, try Paula McLain’s excellent novel [amazon asin=0345521307&text=The Paris Wife] for Hadley’s side of the story. One of the best books I read last year. Highly recommended.
  4. If you liked [amazon asin=0143106155&text=Jane Eyre] by Charlotte Brontë, you will enjoy an updated retelling of the story, [amazon asin=0062064223&text=The Flight of Gemma Hardy] by Margot Livesey. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.
  5. If you liked Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon asin=0440423201&text=Outlander] series, try Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, beginning with [amazon asin=0312378025&text=The Tea Rose]. [amazon asin=1401307469&text=The Winter Rose] and [amazon asin=1401307477&text=The Wild Rose] round out the series, but the first one is the best one.
  6. If you liked [amazon asin=161382310X&text=Moby Dick], or even if you only sort of liked it because it got bogged down in cetology, but you liked the good parts, you will love [amazon asin=0061767654&text=Ahab’s Wife]. Oh.My.Gosh. One of my favorite books ever. Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel introduces the amazing persona of Una, wife of Captain Ahab, from one line in which Ahab mentions her in Moby Dick, and she’s one of the most incredible fictional people you’ll ever meet. I love her. She is one of my fictional best friends.
  7. If you liked [amazon asin=0316038377&text=Twilight], but you wished you could read about grown-ups, and you wanted less purple prose and better writing, try Deborah Harkness’s [amazon asin=0143119680&text=A Discovery of Witches], the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book, [amazon asin=0670023485&text=Shadow of Night], comes out in about a week. You will like Matthew much better than Edward. Trust me.
  8. If you liked [amazon asin=0143105426&text=Pride and Prejudice] and [amazon asin=0486295559&text=Persuasion] by Jane Austen, and you are a little unsure of all those Austen sequels, try out Syrie James’s fictionalized what-if? novel [amazon asin=0061341428&text=The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen] that wonders aloud whether or not Aunt Jane had a real romance that inspired her great books.
  9. If you liked Suzanne Collins’s thrilling [amazon asin=0545265355&text=Hunger Games series], you will enjoy Veronica Roth’s [amazon asin=0062024035&text=Divergent] and its sequel [amazon asin=0062024043&text=Insurgent]. Not sure when the next book in the trilogy comes out, but I can’t wait. Her books are amazing. They will remind you of The Hunger Games without feeling anything at all like a ripoff.
  10. If you liked [amazon asin=0486415864&text=Great Expectations] and [amazon asin=1612930999&text=The Turn of the Screw], you will love John Harwood’s [amazon asin=B000I5YUJE&text=The Ghost Writer]. The book makes several allusions to both novels, but it also contains four complete short stories within the text of the novel (written by the protagonist’s grandmother), and it’s set in a creepy house with a secret.

Bonus: If you like Victorian novels period, and you want to read a love letter to the Victorian novel, or if you like Daphne Du Maurier’s [amazon asin=0380730405&text=Rebecca], try Diane Setterfield’s [amazon asin=0743298039&text=The Thirteenth Tale].

Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. Just because my husband says we have a load of good books doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for more.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a really fun one: a list of the books I wish I could read again for the first time. For some books, there is nothing quite like the magic of reading them for the first time, no matter how good they are on a reread.

  1. The entire [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series by J.K. Rowling. I will never forget discovering those books, and the slow reveal as new books were published. When I began reading them, the movies hadn’t been released yet. I read them in 2001, right before the first film came out. At that time, [amazon_link id=”0439358078″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Order the Phoenix[/amazon_link] hadn’t been published yet.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0618640150″ target=”_blank” ]The Lord of the Rings[/amazon_link] by J.R.R. Tolkien. Such a gripping read the first time around. I haven’t managed a full reread. I usually get bogged down somewhere in [amazon_link id=”0618574956″ target=”_blank” ]The Two Towers[/amazon_link].
  3. [amazon_link id=”0385737645″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly. I loved this book. It’s still my top read for 2011, and it influenced me a great deal. I know I have been more open-minded about music since I read it, and I have been listening to music a lot more, too. I’m not sure I would be if not for this book.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0143105426″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link] by Jane Austen. I was so thrilled by this book the entire time I was reading. Jane was actually funny! And I loved the characters and setting.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone with the Wind[/amazon_link] by Margaret Mitchell. I know I loved it the first time, but I’m not sure how I’d feel on a reread. It’s such a revisionist history of the South in so many ways. It would be interesting to come to it the first time again without any of the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0061205699″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link] by Harper Lee. How would it be to read this again with the hope that Tom might be freed by that white jury?
  7. [amazon_link id=”0345441184″ target=”_blank” ]The Mists of Avalon[/amazon_link] by Marion Zimmer Bradley. My favorite King Arthur book. I ate it up when I read it for the first time in 1996 or 1997. I would like to read it again, but more than anything, I wish I could read it for the first time again.
  8. The [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] series by Diana Gabaldon. This was another fun discovery. I read up through [amazon_link id=”044022425X” target=”_blank” ]Drums of Autumn[/amazon_link], but it took [amazon_link id=”0440221668″ target=”_blank” ]The Fiery Cross[/amazon_link] quite a while to come out, and I never have read that book or any subsequent ones.
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061990477″ target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link] by Colleen McCullough. I read it so long ago, and I’ve never reread it, even though I’ve meant to. I would like to read it for the first time.
  10. [amazon_link id=”B000GH2YPG” target=”_blank” ]Rebecca[/amazon_link] by Daphne du Maurier. So suspenseful! How fun would it be to read again without knowing what happens or how it will end?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Surprise Endings

Top Ten Tuesday

Warning! Here be spoilers!

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about the Book Endings that Left Me with My Mouth Hanging Open. The ends of each of the following books are discussed, so if you want to read them and want to be surprised, read no further: Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins; The Giver, Lois Lowry; Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier; Lord of the Flies, William Golding; Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell;  Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen; Possession, A.S. Byatt; The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield; The Ghost Writer, John Harwood, The Egyptologist, Arthur Phillips. Nota bene: I will be discussing the end of many of the Harry Potter books and why I didn’t find some of them as shocking as others seem to have found them.

Here is your last chance to stop reading if you don’t want the endings of those ten books spoiled.

I mean it.

For real.

Continue reading “Surprise Endings”

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Sunday Salon: Time to Read

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One thing I hear a lot when I talk with friends, family, and colleagues about reading is that they don’t have time to read. I instantly feel a pang of guilt because without their knowing it or perhaps meaning to convey this message at all, I tend to interpret this as a veiled criticism: I am either 1) not busy enough in my life if I have so much time to read, or 2) I am not doing something I should be doing if I can read so much. Now, of course what the person is really saying is probably something closer to “I envy you for being good about carving out time for reading; I wish I could.” My contention is that if reading is truly important to you, you will make time to do it. If it is something expendable to you, you will dispense with it.

I have to read.

Reading is essential to my happiness. When I don’t make some time to do it, I actually become grouchier. In the past few years that I have been book blogging, hence reading more, I am actually happier than I have been in years when I have done less reading.

If you are having trouble carving out that time, it might be that you are not taking advantage of down time. I loathe Newt Gingrich, but I will never forget reading a story about him in which he describes taking a book with him wherever he goes in case he has to wait. If he is in line anywhere, or is waiting for an appointment, he whips out his book and uses the time to read. I know that one seems obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it. Nowadays, you can even download reading apps on your phone or carry your e-reader, so it isn’t even onerous to carry a book with you wherever you go.

Another great time to read is during your commute. If you ride a bus or train, easy enough, but even if you drive, you can try audio books. We listened to Daphne Du Maurier’s [amazon_link id=”B000GH2YPG” target=”_blank” ]Rebecca[/amazon_link] on our trip to Salem last summer, which was a great way to pass our time in the car. I have listened to several audio books in the car, and in some cases, I think listening was better than reading. For example, the narrators of the audio version of [amazon_link id=”0143144189″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link] were fantastic, and the narrator who voiced Minny in the book—Octavia Spencer—is Minny in the film. In other cases, I think I would have preferred reading the actual book as audio can be difficult if you’re trying to follow an intricate plot. My point is that commuting is often down time we can use to read, one way or another.

It can be hard to carve out time to read if you have a demanding job, small children, or something else more pressing that needs your attention, but you can make the time if you truly want to make the time. It’s a matter of looking for it.

The Sunday Salon

photo credit: h.koppdelaney

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I Will Raise Her Statue in Pure Gold…

Juliet's StatueThat whiles Verona by that name is known, / There shall be no figure at such rate be set / As that of true and faithful Juliet.—Montague, Romeo and Juliet Act V, Scene iii.

I’m still reading Anne Fortier’s Juliet, and I have to say the action is really picking up. I don’t review books until I finish them, but here’s a preview: go ahead and read this one, especially if you are a fan of Romeo and Juliet. You know, I asked not to teach ninth grade this year because I thought I was tired of this play, but I’m not, and now I kind of wish I were teaching it. I am, however, having an excellent time with Macbeth. Anyway, Juliet has been a great read so far, and I’m over halfway through it with no idea how it will resolve. Plus, I really want to go to Italy.

On the other hand, I am not enjoying Jamaica Inn as much. I can’t get into it. I think I need to give it a little longer, especially given how much I enjoyed Rebecca, but so far, I’m not too interested in the characters. I’m hoping to have a little more time to read over the holidays. I’m still five books short of my goal of 40 books, which seemed completely obtainable a couple of months ago.

Is anyone else going to do the Shakespeare Challenge? And have you signed up for my challenge yet?

photo credit: Tomato Geezer

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