Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Cousin Rachel

On our return trip from Christchurch a couple of days ago, we listened to Mel Gibson reading My Cousin Rachel, the novel by Daphne du Maurier.  I think we've begun listening to this before, but perhaps hadn't completed it, as only the early parts of the story seemed familiar.

In some ways it's less complex than Rebecca, but it shares that same ambivalence, that sense that we're never quite sure who's fooling who, and whether the people who seem to be wrongdoers actually are.  In Rebecca, we eventually learn that she really was a nasty piece of work, and that Maxim de Winter isn't as difficult a man as the narrator first thinks.  In My Cousin Rachel, we again have a first person narrator, Philip Ashley, a young man who's naive, impetuous, and unable to listen to the advice of his betters.  The consequences are disastrous, but was he entirely wrong in his assumptions, or did he just misread the behaviour of Rachel, and misread the letters that his older cousin and father-figure, Ambrose, had sent him when he was ill.

One minute we think, Yes, he's got it all wrong.  The next we think, No, we've got it all wrong.  Du Maurier leaves the story wide open.  I'm sure there are readers who are convinced they know what the truth of the matter was, and perhaps it's possible to go back and work it out sentence by sentence, but this is such a shifting sands of a tale that on the first reading (or hearing, in our case), it's almost impossible to gauge whether you've got the picture right or not.

There's a 1952 movie version of the story, with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland, directed by Nunnally Johnson.  Apparently there's a slight but significant change at the end of the story.  I haven't seen the movie, but by all accounts it's otherwise faithful to the book.

The audio book version (which may or may not have been abridged; it certainly doesn't say it is) has music by Don Heckman.  He's not a composer I know, and while he's listed on Google as a writer about music there's not much about his compositions.   The music on the audio book is perfect for the story, very simple, often using only a couple of instruments at a time, and being brief variations on a very simple theme.

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