Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wonderfully creepy stories

Mention Daphne du Maurier and novels such as Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn would come to mind. Du Maurier is best known for these novels that focus on how elements of the macabre and the gothic can find its way in ordinary lives. If you feel daunted by the weighty themes of these novels, then checking out du Maurier's short stories will prove rewarding. Her short fictional works are equally compelling and creepy.

The New York Review of Books has collected some of the best short stories by du Maurier in Don't Look Now. First-time readers of du Maurier will not be disappointed, as these stories are extremely satisfying. In fact, some of them have been adapted to the big screen by notable film makers such as Hitchcock, a director known to revel in the bizaare and the otherworldly. Hitchcock and du Maurier do make a perfect pair. Both are storytellers of the highest order, and both have established a reputation for coming up with nightmarish scenes from the quotidian.

The best short story in the collection is probably "Don't Look Now." Like her other fictional work, the aspect of clairvoyance figures prominently in it. In the story, an English couple's vacation in Venice takes a dark turn when an old woman tells the man's wife that their dead daughter is just seated between them. Much to the dismay of the husband, his wife takes an interest in the clairvoyant woman and her sister. These two spinsters even warn the couple to go back to England to avoid something bad happening to them, but it is only the woman who goes back. What happens to her husband in the end has to be read to be fully appreciated. I won't give it away here naturally. It's just too creepy.


"Don't Look Now" was adapted into the big screen in 1974.
It featured Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.


Another notable short story is "The Birds," which was adapted by Hitchcock in a movie of the same title. Du Maurier was very unhappy with Hitchcock's adaptation and she should be. The director changed the setting from the rustic province in the short story to the big city in the movie. If you saw the movie, you know that there's no reason offered as to why the birds just kept violently attacking people. In du Maurier's story, a family gets trapped in their boarded-up home to stay away from these avian attacks. You feel a sense of claustrophobia and anxiety as you read how the family take their meals while they hear the birds furiously clawing their way in their house.

There's also a short ghost story in the collection. In "The Escort," a British warship encounters a fellow British sea vessel who offers to serve as its marine escort on its way to friendly shores. "Split Second" has a Twilight Zone feel to it. In this story, a woman decides to take a short walk and returns to her home only to find out that there are strangers living in her house. In these stories, you clearly see how du Maurier is in her element as she explores the supernatural.

There are other stories about the macabre in this collection which are surely worth losing oneself in. The story entitled "The Blue Lenses" is about a woman who sees animal heads on people after undergoing a lens replacement surgery. The type of animal a person has somehow serves as a reflection on the person's true character. Her nurse, whom she has always trusted, reveals as someone with the head of a viper; her husband, on the other hand, has a vulture's head. "Monte Verità," the last story of the collection, tells of an ancient pagan cult residing in one of Europe's less-explored mountains.

There's something for every one in Don't Look Now. Du Maurier also manages to inject humor into these stories. Her writing may be too cinematic for some people, with each scene carefully plotted and detailed. But these just make her storytelling talents superb but highly accessible. Perhaps this is the reason some critics scoff at her oeuvre, stating that her bestseller status does not speak well of her literary chops. Nevertheless, these stories are entertaining and will surely delight fans of fantastic and gothic literature.

Read this book if:
  1. You have a taste for the macabre.
  2. You want to be surprised at the end of each story.
  3. You just want a good, old-fashioned gothic tale that you can read at night.

21 comments:

Jenny said...

Ooohh these sound good!! Thanks for the review. I'm going to add them to my WL!

Peter S. said...

Hi Jenny! I'm sure you'll like this collection, especially if you want to be creeped out!

Peter S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan G said...

great review, I've always meant to read this but have never got around to it. I may have to order it now.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Ryan! These short stories are so entertaining that they're worth re-reading.

Vivienne said...

This is definitely a book I would read. I love a good ghost story.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Viviene! There are good ghost stories here. And I think you'll love the other stories even though they don't have ghosts in them.

lilly said...

I actually am not very crazy about short stories in general but because I love du Maurier's writing I think I'll give this collection a try.

stacybuckeye said...

This looks like something my husband and I might enjoy reading together. Thanks for the recommendation.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Lilly! I haven't read any of du Maurier's writing before I read this one. Now I'm interested to read Rebecca.

Hi, Stacy! You're welcome! I really enjoyed this collection.

bookjourney said...

Hi Peter - come on over - coffee is on and I have an award for you!

Ryan G said...

Peter, stop by sometime and pick up an award.

http://wordsmithonia.blogspot.com/2009/08/lemonade-award_23.html

thebookaddict said...

Ryan at Wordsmithonia recommended your blog saying, "he always adds books to his TBR pile after he visits your blog" and I totally see what he meant. I love Daphne Du Maurier and have most of her books, but not this one. I'm very selective about short stories as I do not like them as well as novels. Now that I've read your post, I will definitely be looking for this one.

I am now following your blog and I plan to come back frequently!

Peter S. said...

@Ryan: Thanks for the award! I really appreciate it, Ryan!

@bookjourney: Thanks for the award! Coming from you, that means a lot.

@thebookaddict: Thanks for dropping by!

Michael said...

Well, you know what else is creepy, too? Zombie chickens, that's what.

Guess this is turning into an award-fest for you. Congrats.

Diane said...

This is one book I've wanted to read for a while; thanks for posting about it!

Charlie said...

As a fan of both short stories and gothic horror, you've sold me. Thanks for the excellent review.

Peter said...

@Michael: Thanks for the award! Really!

@Diane: I'm sure you'll love it!

@Charlie: Thanks. I never knew you were into gothic fiction, Charlie.

mattviews said...

I just started Rebecca today but I will add this to my collection. The stories sound very intriguing!

Peter S. said...

Hello, mattviews! Yes, these stories are very interesting indeed.

Uma said...

Great reviews! You heightened the suspense in the stories. I enjoyed your blog.