Before last year, I’d never read anything by Daphne du Maurier except the ubiquitous (and wonderful) Rebecca, but I’d read that about ten times. (Really. At least.) In keeping with my recent tendency to choose new books over re-reading old favorites, I read My Cousin Rachel last year, and loved it. This time, I chose Don’t Look Now, a book of short stories, because I’d recently seen the 1973 film of the title story, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and I wanted to see how the story compared.
“Don’t Look Now” is a fantastically eerie story about a couple who have come to Venice to try to move past the loss of their beloved young daughter. They happen across a pair of psychic sisters who claim to see their daughter’s spirit hovering near them. The ensuing drama is set against rumors of a serial killer who is menacing Venice, and the atmosphere of the whole story is creepy beyond belief, to say nothing of the ending. The film version, while making a few changes (and adding an extremely erotic sex scene — that’s the 1970s for you), is very faithful to the story in spirit and atmosphere, and is frankly worth watching just for Venice, a place I’ve never visited. Story and film highly recommended.
The rest of the stories were good, but not great, and thematically something of a hodgepodge. With “The Breakthrough,” I thought there would be a theme of the occult: a man undertakes scientific research on the force of the soul after death, with terrifying results, and then in “Not After Midnight,” there was an almost (but not quite) Robert Aickmanesque treatment of the destruction that inevitably occurs when ordinary people brush up against the old gods. However, “A Border-Line Case” was much more straightforward, about jealousy, adultery, and guilt, and “The Way of the Cross” has no hint of the macabre: it’s about human connection and humility, experiences that bring us closer to each other whether we like it or not.
These stories were interesting, and enjoyable to read. I’m glad I picked them up. They didn’t stand out for me the way her novels have (with the possible exception of “Don’t Look Now”), but they were well worth a look.