The nine short stories in this collection by Daphne du Maurier are wonderfully dark, some of them downright terrifying. Two of them — “Don’t Look Now” and “The Birds”— have been made into classic horror films, and the stories are even scarier, especially in the case of “The Birds.” I love the Hitchcock film, but the sense of doom in this story is much greater, as du Maurier makes it clear that the crisis exists beyond the immediate setting. When the story ends, I still couldn’t help but feel that it was only a matter of time before the birds would win.
A few of the stories are just brief little curiosities. There’s “The Escort,” about a ghostly ship; “Indiscretion,” which is more comic than the other stories; and “La Sainte-Vierge,” which is probably the saddest of the stories. There’s no complex plot or character development in these stories. They just capture a moment of irony or strangeness, more startling perhaps than terrifying. And they’re short enough that they didn’t wear out their welcome, even if they aren’t stories that will stick with me.
Two other stories were entertaining enough, but offered little that really surprised me. “Kiss Me Again, Stranger” involves a man becoming captivated by a mysterious woman he meets in a movie theater. I found this pretty predictable, and the main character much too easily duped, which I guess was the point. “Monte Verita,” the longest story in the collection, is about a woman who disappeared in a hidden mountain city. I liked the idea of it, but I think it was longer than it needed to be.
Besides “The Birds,” the stories that made the strongest impression on me were “Split Second” and “Blue Lenses,” both of which center on women trying to explain situations that no one understands. In “Split Second,” a woman leaves her house to go on a walk, and when she returns she finds her house filled with strangers and all her things gone. In “Blue Lenses,” a woman has surgery on her eyes and wakes up to find that she sees everyone in a different and alarming way. In both cases, the women are certain of their own experiences, but no one believes them. What they are experiencing is terrifying enough without the additional problem of not being listened to. And, like in “The Birds,” there seems to be nothing that can be done about it.
Whenever I read Daphne du Maurier, I hunger to read more. Nothing of hers I’ve read so far tops My Cousin Rachel, which is a masterpiece of unreliable narration and ambiguous characterization. But everything I’ve read of hers has been a pleasure. What’s your favorite du Maurier?
I read these stories back in April and early May, but I saved the post until now, as part of the Daphne du Maurier reading week, hosted by Ali. Visit her blog for links to more or follow the #DDMreadingweek hashtag on Twitter.