Holy cats. I’m glad it’s Friday. After spending a lot of yesterday listening to/watching the judiciary senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, I’m pretty close to spent this morning. That’s one of the reasons I’m happy to share this conversation I had with my dear friend Taylor [who’s been here before] about a wild book that we both enjoyed so much. This conversation is VERY spoiler-y, and although I’m finally reconciling myself to the fact that some people don’t mind spoilers [HOW], and although WE ARE CHARMING AND WITTY ALWAYS, I would 10 out of 10 recommend reading this book, both for the escapism of a twisty plot and the reflections on gender dynamics. We haven’t seen the movie yet, but it stars the incomparable Rachel Weisz and I’m very pumped.
So without further ado…some friendly shouting!
Taylor McElree: Oh my gosh I’m so excited to talk about this fuckkking book!!
I’ve also been watching Phantom of the Opera so I’m in pretty much the perfect mood to be talking about this shit.
And it’s thunderstorming outside, so pretty much everything has come together to set the stage for the madness that is Daphne du Maurier
Kelsey Widman: Hello! Yes!!!
First of all, welcome back!!
Second of all, yessssss the harder it rained the more pumped I got because I was like “THEMATIC CONFLUENNNNNNNNCE”
and I’ve been listening to the A Simple Favor soundtrack so my mood is set up well also
TM: Then let’s dig in, girl!
KW: this time around, tables are turned from when we did Villette, because you finished this book a couple of weeks ago and I only JUST finished last night so I am V DEEP IN MY FEELINGS
TM: Should we get into the juiciest bits first, or start of with something a little less…insane?
I’m glad I took notes, because with how fast I read it, I forgot some of the less ridiculous details.
KW: okay so I’m not saying that women are allowed to poison men who choke them
but I’m certainly not NOT saying that
TM: Oh Lord.
KW: if she DID poison him??
where are you at with whether or not she poisoned him? [slash also Ambrose]
TM: That’s so tricky
I feel like she did
KW: ooh it’s gonna be a DIVIDED JURY 2DAY
TM: The fact that he found the flowers plus her behavior when he was getting sick and better makes me think she did
KW: as it always is when we talk about these books
TM: I swear we are opposite people
KW: but the seeds could have been not for poisoning!!
they might not have been the poison for Kuzco, Kuzco’s poison
TM: what else could she possibly have been using them for?
KW: for planting!!
cause when Phil and Louise were searching her stuff at the end they found that book that talked about planting them!
KW: also I feel like Louise was v smart and the appropriate amount of skeptical
TM: Though I’m not sure she would need them. She had some in Italy. Why bring seeds back with her?
KW: cause she liked planting and wanted to plant!!
she was the GARDENER and Ambrose and Phil were the flowers
TM: They were the flowers?
KW: I thought they were just the seeds for the flowers!
TM: Ambrose and Philip?
I am confusion.
KW: oh that old thing about couples where one person is the gardener and one person is the flower and everyone wants to think they’re the gardener
TM: I have literally never heard that before.
KW: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it irl, just always in mediocre romcoms
WAIT isn’t it in The Wedding Date?? [movie version]
okay WAY OFF TRACK
[ed. note: sadly, this is not a movie version of Certified Fantastic Book ‘The Wedding Date,’ by Jasmine Guillory, but a separate 2005 movie of the same name that I can never remember whether it’s complete garbage or not cause it seems like it shouldn’t be, because it stars goddesses Amy Adams, Debra Messing, and Dermot Mulroney?? but I’m pretty sure it definitely is??? okay I got off track again talking about The Wedding Date.]
KW: so I think Rachel was definitely kind of a snake
TM: There was definitely shit going on
KW: like she definitely came from Italy to get the Ashley money
KW: I just don’t think she anticipated things going as EXTREMELY as they did
TM: the way she behaved as soon as he signed over all the money to her
I think she wasn’t planning on killing Philip from the getgo
but once he signed everthing over to her and she decided to leave and he got all….strangle-y
she knew she had to get rid of him
KW: definitely when he gave her all of the jewelry it seemed like in her head it was either “wow this is going better than I could have possibly anticipated” or “oh god I have SEVERELY misjudged this situation”
TM: Yeah I wondered a lot what her intention with Philip was
sometimes they were actually really fucking cute and even I got pulled in
KW: but then why didn’t she leave while he was basically on his death bed? I feel like she stayed out of bummer human decency, and what did she get for it? A LONG WALK OFF A SHORT, UNSTEADY TERRACE.
TM: I honestly don’t know why she stayed. That was another point that was really interesting and confusing.
It definitely muddied the waters.
KW: one of the themes I found most interesting was the musing and wondering from everyone about different versions of each other
TM: I know!
How they perceived each other
KW: like one of Philip and Rachel’s first conversations was about the imagined versions of each other that they harbored in their mind before meeting
and there was a lot of “she’s not herself” “I’m not myself” Ambrose became A SUPER DIFFERENT PERSON when he got sick
but like what even IS “the self”
TM: And how Philip felt sure that he had completely misjudged her and now knew her completely when really he didn’t know her at all.
Are we going to get into a deeply philosophical question here, kelsey?
KW: oh yeah!!! he kept being like “well I was completely in the dark before, but now I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING” and then he immediately said something that made it clear how much he clearly DID NOT UNDERSTAND.
in some ways it’s almost a reverse “Rebecca”
Also: before the whole strangling thing (because there really isn’t any coming back from that), what did you think of Philip?
KW: like in Rebecca the protagonist finds her spine but loses the house, and in this Philip loses his spine but keeps the house
I thought he was truthfully very dumb
Did you have any sympathy for him ever?
KW: dumb AND controlling, which is a real bad mix
okay YES in a specific way that I really wanted to talk about so yay
KW: one of the things that tipped me off to Rachel being kind of a snake was how she kept needling/teasing him about Louise
TM: I know!
KW: like at one point I actually put down the book and was like “holy shit I’ve seen this HAPPEN in real life!”
TM: It was a very obvious sign that things were not good with her
well. not very obvious
du Maurier is pretty good at building subtle hints
KW: you tease a person about someone else to see how they react, and then you KEEP teasing someone so they keep digging themself a deeper and deeper trench against that person
I mean, I feel like it was obvious to LOUISE
TM: I loved how clearly Louise saw things
KW: okay I feel like I’m saying a lot because I’m just word-vomiting all the feelings I’ve had over the last 24 hours
TM: (which is a good point to you in your theory that Rachel wasn’t poisoning him since Louise was skeptical)
KW: how did YOU feel about Philip before the strangling thing
TM: That’s exactly how I felt immediately after I read the book
I was so confused about how I felt about Philip
I absolutely hated him at the beginning of the book
I thought he was annoying and stupid.
But as things went on – as Rachel opened him up and revealed how desperate he was to have someone to love, I felt the sympathy stirring. Which was irritating as fuck.
Most of my notes in the margins were “why do I like you right now goddammit!? you’re awful!”
KW: du Maurier definitely does the slow character progression INCREDIBLY well
TM: hard agree
The thing that kept coming into my head was that he was such a little boy
He had no idea how women work, how other people work, how the world works.
He didn’t know how to love something so he just held tighter and tighter to it.
Which is pathetic but for some unknown reason slightly endearing when put into the perspective of loneliness and naivete
KW: like he started out wanting to give her things because he both felt bad for her and also had a boner for her, but then when he decided to sign the entire estate over to her, he said something to himself about “now she CAN’T LEAVE because PROPERTY” and I was like “holy shit this is just about controlling Rachel now how did you get here” but his progression to there felt so natural and unforced
TM: absolutely. I feel like it actually would have really surprised me if he had tried to strangle Rachel at the beginning of the book when he hated her, but it felt completely natural story-wise for him to attempt to do so when he was so “in love” with her at the end
goddamn it sounded so stressful to be Philip’s friend
TM: OH MY GOD!!
KW: poor Mr. Kendall TRIED
TM: I just have to say that my favorite fucking part of this whole fucking book was when the butler gave Philip the portrait of himself for his birthday!
OH MY GOD
TM: it was so funny!
AND I really liked Philip at that part
he was so nice to everyone
KW: I literally wrote in the margins “you don’t deserve Seecombe, Philip”
TM: No one deserves Seecombe.
KW: ahhhh I bet Seecombe was DEVASTATED by Rachel’s death
speaking of death
KW: I felt like the death of that dog was supposed to be symbolic of something, but I wasn’t sure what
TM: Ok I remember the dog dying but I don’t remember what was happening around that time in the book. What had been happening? and how were things between rachel and philip?
KW: I thinkkkk it was shortly before his birthday?
TM: Hmmmm. Maybe it was a sign that things were going to go south soon – an omen perhaps?
KW: ugh now I can’t find it in the book
but you know who I found instead
TM: To me it felt like Ambrose had died again – so I felt that the reason she was so upset was because it reminded her of that (and I kind of thought that her guilty conscience kicked in…)
ANd oh yes!
TM: Motherfucking Rainaldi
KW: I definitely think it reminded her of Ambrose but since I’m team Rachel’s innocence, I didn’t take it as a guilty conscience thing
I loved every minute Rainaldi was on the page
TM: See Rainaldi was weird for me because TAYLOR thought he was hilarious, but I was so drenched in Philip’s angst that I kind of hated him
KW: “ugh isn’t it so gross how TALL some people are??” *pointed look at his own host*
TM: He truly was amazing
AND as someone who thinks Rachel was a killer, I ended up liking Rainaldi more because it felt like he was trying to protect Philip and England from her
KW: the one thing Philip was right about was that Rainaldi was definitely into Rachel
TM: The beauty of messaging someone: you can both send something at the same time that says pretty much the opposite thing
KW: oh I totally felt like he was hanging around waiting for Rachel to come live with him in [extravagant] sin
TM: There was a part though
I just tried to find it but I couldn’t
He told Philip not to give her things
it’s been a while
KW: but like
he had to know that Philip was NEVER going to listen to him
TM: That’s why he talked to Kendall too!
It’s like he was trying to warn them – and yes, he was flirting with Rachel, but it felt like he knew that was the best way to handle her and get her back to Italy so she couldn’t hurt anyone again
I also have another question:
At the end of chapter 21 (pg 295), did Rachel and Philip have sex?
KW: it’s a hard yes from me
TM: Because I totally thought they had sex, but then things got super weird and it became less clear
KW: “then things got super weird and it became less clear”: an alternate title for this book
KW: no I think they definitely did and that’s why he was SO SURE they were engaged even though they’d never talked about it
I think I was just thrown by how confused she seemed about it – she acted like absolutely nothing was different (which further illustrates her snakiness), but it made me doubt things. Which is probably what du Maurier wanted
KW: or maybe they DID talk about it but then he was so bad in bed that she pretended they hadn’t
TM: lol also a possibility
when does this book take place?
I wondered this A LOT
TM: because it was published in 1951, but they ride carriages
but her clothes sometimes sounded more 20th century
and i was just slightly confused
as i was most of the time while reading this book
KW: I was kind of going off the trailer aesthetic in my head, but then I remembered when it was written/when Rebecca was published and I was less certain
TM: it’s not a huge thing, but it definitely made it hard to pinpoint how things looked sometimes
KW: yeah it seemed wild that she would show her shoulders at Christmas Dinner in the time period I was imagining
TM: i know!
but they rode frickin carriages everywhere!
KW: yeah I don’t think they even MENTIONED cars
maybe they exist outside of time
KW: so it had to be early 20th century at the VERY earliest but probably earlier
I mean THAT WOULDN’T SHOCK ME
TM: it wouldn’t, but once again, the shoulders thing really threw me
this is probably the least important thing to be talking about with this book
KW: okay I should probably wrap it up soon–any final thoughts/things to get into?
TM: but I was so annoyed that I couldn’t figure it out
I know I have more but I can’t think of anything hugely pressing
KW: I think me trying to prove that the gardener/flower relationship metaphor is a thing is the least important thing to be talking about with this book
TM: We definitely need to geek out in person over this one
KW: I just do wanna say how much I LOST MY DAMN MIND at the final line being the same as the FIRST line
yah sorry internet nerds, we get to continue this conversation WITHOUT YOU
TM: I know! It truly is a beautiful book
KW: okay so your final verdict is that she did kill Ambrose/try to kill Philip?
TM: Yes. I want to sit down and compile all my evidence with page numbers and everything.
If you’re up to it, you should do it too and we’ll see if there’s more textual evidence for either argument
KW: and I feel strongly that she didn’t but even more strongly that if she did she would be JUSTIFIED
TM: (lol i miss school)
KW: [ps you rock thanks for doing this]
TM: [it was my pleasure!]
[now i must go feed myself]
TM: [have a good night]
KW: ❤ ❤
It is very important to me that you take care of yourself in the way that’s best for you. After work today I’m going to see ‘A Simple Favor’ and eating lots of dried fruit and drinking water and talking to the people I need to talk to. Listen to your heart and body. You know what you need. ❤