With a new film adaptation (starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin) having hit the screen this year, it seemed like the right time to dive back into my pile of Daphne du Maurier books and pick up My Cousin Rachel. It tells a story of a young man by the name of Philip Ashley in what may or may not be Georgian/early Victorian times (Du Maurier never specifies the time period). His cousin and father figure, Ambrose, travels abroad to recover from an illness, only to unexpectedly marry “cousin Rachel” and pass away shortly afterwards. In his last letter to his nephew, Ambrose implies that Rachel has poisoned him, leaving Philip devastated and out for revenge. However, when she shows up at his door in Cornwall, Philip begins to have doubts:
Did Rachel murder his cousin or is she an innocent woman?
Cate Blanchett in the 2015 movie adaptation, Carol.
Before the 2015 movie Carol started raking in the Oscar nominations, the general public mostly knew Patricia Highsmith for her psychological thrillers Strangers On A Train (1950) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1955), two stories about mystery and murder. In fact, The Price of Salt is the only one of Highsmith’s novels that does not feature a violent crime – but it is still incredibly suspenseful. Yes, Highsmith introduces a gun in the third act, but there is more to it than that; this story about two women falling in love in 1950s New York City is set up like a detective. The protagonist, Therese, sets out to solve a very specific puzzle: does Carol love me back? Is there a chance we can be together? Do I dare to put everything on the line for her?
This summer, my parents and I went on holiday to Cornwall and visited Tintagel Castle, which was supposedly the place where King Arthur was conceived. It’s a popular tourist attraction, surrounded by gift shops where you can buy your kids a toy Excalibur or Merlin’s pointy hat. Since I love to buy books in the place where they are set or were written, I decided to buy a copy of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (and a beautiful hardcover edition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca). I knew that it told the story of King Arthur, that it was on every single list of best fantasy books, and that my sister-in-law, who is an avid fan of Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, and Terry Goodkind, had been begging me to read it for years. I figured that it would be an epic fantasy story with lots of drama and violence – which it is. It is also nothing like that at all.
Old Penguin book cover.
This book tells the story of a middle class white man in his early thirties working as a lecturer on medieval literature who thinks he deserves a better job and a prettier girlfriend, but spends most of his time complaining and drinking instead of actually working for either of these things. Most of the novel is spent making silly faces, lying, avoiding his responsibilities, and playing immature pranks on the people he loathes. In the end, he gets his rewards without making much of an effort and walks off into the sunset, having learned nothing at all.
Lucky Jim has not aged well.