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Archive for the ‘du maurier daphne’ Category

Phillip Ashley is 24 and his older cousin’s heir. Raised by his adored batchelor cousin, Ambrose, he is old before his time, settled in his ways and requiring nothing other than his home to be content  Yet his world is set to be shaken following Ambrose’s surprise marriage to a widowed Italian contessa and his suspicious death which follows soon after.

Ambrose’s marriage and demise happen off-page.  Phillip only hears news  through increasingly rare and distressed letters from his cousin, accusing his wife, Rachel, of controlling, manipulative behaviour and much worse. Surprisingly following Ambrose’s death, Phillip remains his heir (for reasons that surface much later) and Rachel is an impoverished widow.  When she arrives on English shores, Phillip is set for a confrontation …

..  and yet the woman’s natural charm and grace and elegance disarm him. The question is whether Rachel has ulterior motives. Is she what she seems  – a grieving widow seeking further memories of her beloved – or is the impoverished and somewhat older woman seeking to twist the boy (yes, at 24 Phillip is still a boy) around her little finger to take what she can – including his life – if necessary?

Answering that question here will ruin the novel for those who have not read it. So I won’t – actually I’m not sure that I can, because such are the sleights of the author’s hand that one minute I saw it, the next minute I did not. The  result is a slippery, suggestive text with little hard evidence and an awful lot of interpretation on the part of the characters and the reader.   For instance do Ambrose’s letters tell the whole truth, just a kernel of truth or are they the paranoid delusions of a man suffering from a terminal brain tumour?

The reader is conditioned to dislike Rachel, while her behaviour belies all suspicion. And yet, once or twice her mask slips and the paragon of virtue becomes cold and hostile. Usually when there is some tension between herself and the narrator, Phillip himself.  You see it’s impossible to see Rachel unfiltered as she truly is.  Phillip controls her image, and that corresponds to his emotional state.  When he is besotted, she is an angel of light. When he is angry or thwarted, she is grasping and manipulative.

This isn’t just a gothic,  domestic drama, although it is superb, read as such. These are elemental power games.  Rachel is well aware of her feminine allure and the advantage of her experience. Phillip is well aware of the power of money to control the woman he once hated but now does not wish to lose. This battle of the sexes looks as though it could end in happiness for both until he tips the balance so much in her favour that ….  No, no, that would be telling. What I will say is that he does it on the day he comes into his inheritance – April Fool’s Day. Need I say more? Perhaps just one more thing – it triggers a series of events that mirror those preceeding Ambrose’s death.

My Cousin Rachel is one of Du Maurier’s masterpieces, meticulously plotted and seriously unputdownable  (even on a day when I was feeling under the weather.) Thanks to the #1951club for providing the impetus to pick it up at long last. I now eagerly anticipate the forthcoming film, though I have no idea how it will convey the ambiguity of the text without driving the audience (me) insane.

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But not for real.  This is a virtual tour of a place that I would love to visit some day … well, actually, now I’m not so sure.  Let me explain.

City-Pick Venice was my choice for the Blogging Event Venice in February.  Real life interference means it’s has taken almost 3 months for the blog to catch up.  (Which it now has, hurrah!)

Returning to City-Pick. I love this series of books but this is the first time I’ve read one pertaining to a city I’ve never visited and that made this read an experience in itself.

The book is made up of extracts from multiple books, both fiction and non-fiction which are set in Venice.  Cleverly structured in chapters which comprise a virtual holiday taking the virtual visitor from Chapter 1 Arrival … by Land, Air or Sea through the city tour in Chapter 3 of Some Unmissable Places, Chapter 4 Streets Full of Water, Chapter 5 Sights, sounds smells … and that Venetian weather until finally we take some Parting (Snap) Shots in Chapter 8.  There are many authors “collaborating” here, the old (Goethe with extracts from Italian Journey) and the new (Geoff Dyer with extracts from Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi).   I was personally delighted to reacquaint myself with Dibdin’s Venetian detective Aurelio Zen on his home turf.  Most illuminating for a ne’er-set-a-foot-or-paddle-in-Venice were the extracts from guidebooks written by Venetian authors Paolo Barbaro (Venice Revealed) and Tiziano Scarpa (Venice is a Fish)and if I ever do go there, I will be taking both of those with me.

If I ever go there?  Well, a funny thing happened as I was making this virtual trip.  I took up a piece of advice given by Jeanette Winterson in The Passion:

Canals hide other canals, alleyways cross and criss-cross so that you will not know which is which until you have lived here all you life.  …. Leave plenty of time in your doings and be prepared to go another way, to do something not planned if that is where the streets lead you.

OK, I thought, let’s do that in a literary sense and see where the Venetian paths of my TBR lead me.  So as I read my way through City-Pick, I also read Susan Hill’s novella, The Man In The Picture and Daphne Du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now.  Could I have picked two more unsettling pieces?  What did I learn?  #1 Wisdom according to Susan Hill: do NOT allow yourself to be approached by a woman wearing a Venetian carneval mask. You may find yourself locked in the picture frame forever. #2 Wisdom according to Daphne Du Maurier do not give in to your better instincts to rush to the aid of a crying child – likelihood is it is a malevolent dwarf seeking only to take your life.  Add this  to #3 advice from Thomas Mann, learned many moons ago  from Death In Venice:  do not to eat cholera-bearing strawberries.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’d ever get out alive.

But the image that has put the real life trip to Venice on hold is this.  Talking of the infamous acqua alta or high tides:

Tourists love it, take snapshots, walk about barefoot with their trousers rolled up fisherman style, and tread on invisible underwater dog-shit; there’s always one who walks blissfully on, laughing his head off and generally rejoicing, unaware that he is getting dangerously close to the edge of the submerged fondamenta, the invisible shore beneath his feet has come to an end, but he goes on dragging his ankles under the water until he misses his step and suddenly plunges into the canal.

Thank you, Tiziano Scarpa.  Have you any idea how spine-chillingly terrifying that is to someone who can swim only within her depth?  (All 5′ o” of it.)

City Pick Venice   / The Man In The Picture   / Don’t Look Now

P.S I suspect this is the beginning of an obsession with the city.  I joined Pinterest to create a Virtual Venice.  Have you pictures you’d like to add?

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