If you are familiar with the singer Michael Bolton, you may also know the song – “When a man loves a woman”. When reading this tale, the lines from that song which go, “When a man loves a woman, I give you everything I’ve got” really do come to mind. This is due to the apparent nature of the romance within the book. The novel depicts a truly interesting tale which waltz’s around the themes of love, hate, and manipulation. With the final steps of dance being unexpected, much like many of the events which occur within the novel.
The story takes place during the 1800’s, where an orphan by the name Philip Ashley is taken in by his cousin Ambrose Ashley. Ambrose takes on the responsibility of raising young Philip as they both reside within his English estate, in Cornwall. Ambrose only loves in this world are his estate, his garden, and Philip. As a result of this, the two live very contented but also limited lives. As the goings-on of their immediate environment and their own lives are their primary concern. The narrator, a now 24 year Philip, expresses the strong admiration he held at the time for his cousin Ambrose. He wanted from a very young age, nothing more than to be like him.
The two continued to live quite contently at their estate, while Ambrose raised Philip to be his future heir. This easy-going life, however, comes to an end when Ambrose’s health becomes compromised. The doctor informs Ambrose that due to his illness, it’s now necessary for him to spend time in warmer climates. This meant that during the winter, Ambrose would be forced to leave Cornwell, and take residence elsewhere.
During the upcoming winter season, Ambrose chooses to travel to Florence Italy, for his refuge away from the cold. Philip wanted to tag along with his cousin but regardless of this Ambrose still traveled alone. After his arrival and spending some time in Florence, Ambrose writes back to his cousin letting him know that he has met a distant relative. She turns out to be “Our Cousin Rachel” and Ambrose expressed within following letters about things such as their shared passion for gardening. The letters continue to follow and Philip is soon made abruptly aware of Ambrose marriage to Rachel. This news leaves young Philip in a state of dismay as this was completely unexpected by him. Philip has a hard time processing and adjusting to the news but he continues to read the letters sent to him by his cousin. The letters, however, begin to take a disturbing turn. Ambrose begins to suggest within his letters that his wife is not the woman he thought her to be. Also, they mention he has fallen ill again and his further suspects he was poisoned by his wife. Some time passes and eventually, Ambrose requests Philip to visit him in Florence. However, even though Philip rushes quickly to Ambrose’s aid, it is unfortunately too late as Ambrose has passed away. His passing is said to be due to a brain tumor and Philip has come to find that Rachel, has vanished.
Philip, certain that his beloved cousin has been murdered by a vile woman, returns to his home in Cornwall. A few weeks and to Philip’s complete surprise Rachel arrives at his doorstep to visit. Filled with rage and hatred Philip is determined to make Rachel’s stay at his home a living nightmare. This was until she turned out to be nothing like what he expected. Philip completely falls under the power of Rachel’s charm. He not only seemingly forgets his hatred for her but also falls in love with her.
Philip continues to receive letters that had been mailed to him by his late cousin before his death. These letters once again warn him about Rachel but his passions have blinded him to any caution. The story continues to follow the narration of Philips ever-changing opinion of Rachel. As she reveals more of herself to him, his view of her slowly but substantially changes.
The book continues to carry the reader along with rollercoaster ride that is Philip’s emotions. While leaving the reader with a lingering question. Did Rachel really do it?
The 1958 movie adaption of the novel provides an excellent visual for all the events before mentioned in the book. It adheres to the original story outlined by the novel, allowing for a deeper understanding of the characters. The 2017 remake should also prove to be an even greater presentation of the tale.
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