Daphne du Maurier
Crimesquad.com reviewer and author of his new debut, ‘For Reasons Unknown’, Michael Wood listed du Maurier’s Rebecca in his personal Top Ten. Although not strictly classed as a crime novel, Michael wrote that it was the sustained level of suspense that always drew him back to this classic and made him a fan of her work. Now, with the release of two short story collections in very attractive hardback editions, Michael gives his view on both collections.
Daphne du Maurier was born in London in 1907, the second of three daughters of the eminent actor and manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, and actress Muriel Beaumont. Her grandfather was the author and famed Punch cartoonist George du Maurier, who created the character of Svengali in the novel Trilby.
Educated at home with her sisters, and then later in Paris, she began writing short stories and articles in 1928. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931 at the young age of 24. However, it was her novel Rebecca that made her one of the most popular authors of her day. Besides novels, du Maurier published short stories, plays and biographies. Many of her works were adapted into film and television mini-series, including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, The Birds, and Don’t Look Now.
She lived in Cornwall for most of her life where many of her novels were set, and, in 1969, she was award a DBE.
Daphne du Maurier died on April 19th 1989 at the age of 81 in her beloved Cornwall.
The Birds and other Stories
A gorgeous new volume of six short stories from one of England’s most respected and vivid writers. Her most famous short story is ‘The Birds’, which, I have to ashamedly admit, I have never read. I am a big fan of the Alfred Hitchcock directed film but the written story had eluded me. I was surprised to find how completely different the story is to the film. The story centres around a family caught in the middle of an attack by birds. As they try to make sense of what is happening they must survive through the night as the birds hold the public prisoners in their own homes, fearing for their lives. Du Maurier writes such a surreal story with great tension and energy. The sense of fear and horror crackles on every page, and the ending, while ambiguous to the characters’ fate, is chilling in its lack of detail.
While I enjoyed reading ‘The Birds’, my favourite short story in this volume is the wonderfully eerie ‘Monte Verita’. Only an accomplished writer of du Maurier’s magnitude could write a short story covering the entire lives of three characters, condensed into less than 75 pages, yet giving a full and rich descriptive narrative. We’re told the story of a happily married couple through the eyes of a close friend, as they climb a mountain together. However, the feat is not one of achievement and the rest of their lives is dramatically shattered. It’s a gripping and bizarre story but told with real heart and humanity.
Other stories in this volume are ‘The Apple Tree’, ‘The Little Photographer’, ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’, and ‘The Old Man’. They are all completely different from each other yet all completely compelling. ‘The Apple Tree’ is a subtle and memorable tale while ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ is a dark and claustrophobic thriller.
Don’t Look Now and other Stories
‘Don’t Look Now’ is another of du Maurier’s stories made famous by being turned into a successful film. While I haven’t seen the film I did know the basic plot. After reading the story, a tragic tale of loss and grief as a husband and wife mourn the loss of one of their children, I am not sure if I want to watch the film. Surely nothing on screen can live up to such a richly written and detailed story.
The short story format is where du Maurier’s powerful narrative comes alive. Her ability to engross the reader, make them love and feel for the characters, and engage with the story in such a short space of time shows how wonderful she was as a creator of fiction.
My favourite story in this volume is the deceptive and misleading ‘A Border-Line Case’. The reader has no idea where this story is going until the final pages and the pay-off is very well done. ‘Not After Midnight’, not as strong as other stories in either volume due to an unlikeable protagonist, is still an intriguing premise with an unexpected and exciting finale.
Other stories in this volume are ‘The Way of the Cross’ and ‘The Breakthrough’. As a writer myself, I wish I could write anything half as good as a du Maurier short story. Any reader of intelligently written fiction and richly paced stories should add these books to their collection. You will not be disappointed.
Five Crimesquad.com spyglasses for each volume.