‘The Birds and other stories’ by Daphne du Maurier

The Birds and other stories

Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favourite authors; she is one of a cherished few who nourishes my dark side. Rebecca is a serious contender for my most loved piece of fiction ever, and My Cousin Rachel is right up there too.

Having said that, I’ve never actually seen a film adaptation of any du Maurier book. Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ though, will be going straight on to my viewing timetable this Autumn.

This collection of stories begins with The Birds, which is a gripping and horrific epic in short form. On one level, it is about a man, Nat, trying to protect his family against a building ominous threat, culminating in an unprecedented attack of nature; freakish, violent and malevolent.

Then, if we consider that this was written with WWII in recent memory, and imagine how it might feel, in a remote location, being under attack and isolated from all communication, with the consummation of a threat which has been underestimated and misunderstood, we can conceive how apocalyptic it would seem. A terrific story.

The second in the collection is Monte Verita, and this is the most lengthy in the book. Fate and destiny, the power of enduring, obsessive love, superstition, worship and fear, and the formidable, indomitable power of nature are all explored in this story. This is arguably the least popular of the collection, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think I approached this book with the preconception that The Birds was the classic, and from what I already knew about it, believed it would be my favourite. But, I think I loved The Apple Tree the most, because it has the Daphne du Maurier hallmark of taking an (often subconscious) anxiety, and transforming it into a shrouded, crippling dread for her narrator!

This is a story about an elderly, recently bereaved widower, except he’s not in mourning. He’s gained the freedom he appears to have always wanted from his passive-aggressive, shrew-martyr of a wife. I didn’t like him one bit, mind. I was glad of the crippled, wizened, and bent old apple tree in his garden, that haunted and tormented him to distraction. Good on it!

The Little Photographer follows The Apple Tree, and to me, it has the feel of Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected’. The young Marquise, basking, bored and beautiful, is on a luxury holiday with her two children and their nanny. She lures a local to whom she has a vague attraction, to take some photographs of her in various locations and poses. A one-sided obsession begins; the story takes a dark turn and by the end, there is the sobering sense that no-one can escape the consequences of their actions.

Kiss Me Again, Stranger is I think, my least favourite of the collection. A young war veteran becomes obsessed with an usherette at his local cinema. The urban equivalent of a siren story.

The Old Man. What a story!! A voyeuristic neighbour becomes obsessed with the comings and goings at the home of an individual, known only to us as ‘the old man’. He has a wife, with whom, our narrator observes, he has a relationship which is romantic and exclusive. Over time, children are born to them, but the neighbour worries that, as parents, there is something abnormal and worrying in their level of attention and affection towards them. The climax of this story will, without doubt, have you going back to the start and reading it again. This is a real treat to conclude the collection.

Hope you enjoy it, if you are picking this up for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill

 

The Woman in Black

I’ve seen the stage version of The Woman in Black twice, both times at The Theatre on the Lake in Keswick. The first time was as a young woman, and I came out of the auditorium creeped out, but had enjoyed it immensely. The second time, older, and after I’d had children, I emerged gripped with terror and wondering what had possessed me to go again! I couldn’t face the film.

And now, like an idiot, I’ve gone and read the book.

But maybe, it’s the irresistible pull of the haunted house tale. Like any decent haunted house, however repulsive and forbidding, it malevolently draws its victims in, like moths to a flame. And as with crime, there is no such thing as a victimless horror story.

On the front cover of my copy, which is very beautiful (sinister, but lovely), it states, “The Classic English Ghost Story”, and it is. It’s short; it can easily be read in one sitting. Rather foolishly though, I started this at bedtime, on my own. My husband was still faffing around downstairs, and I realised after the first chapter, that I needed to put it down and finish it during the day. The closed book then seemed to throb ominously on my bedside table, but in fairness, I may have got myself slightly overwrought with anticipation.

So, I’ve finished it today. It’s really an excellent ghost story with a heart-freezing climax. I know this is a book which is studied in schools now and so I’m not going to try to be clever or go into an in-depth analysis, as:

a) It’s unlikely I’d be able to

b) It’s already been done a few hundred thousand times

But for those who haven’t already read it, the premise of the story is this:

In a fictional town in the north-east of England called Crythin Gifford, an old lady, Mrs. Alice Drablow, has died intestate. A firm of London solicitors has been appointed to sift through her personal effects at her home, the aptly named Eel Marsh House. The firm appoints a young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who is our protagonist. Arthur is keen to further his situation at the firm in order that he may provide well for his life with Stella, his fiancée, and he embarks on the long train journey so that he may firstly attend Mrs. Drablow’s funeral and then get on with the task at hand.

Beyond this, it’s every reader for themselves. It’s so frightening!

Almost every moment of this story is either ominous or terrifying, although we do get the odd minute of reprieve, just to allow the crescendo of tension to build back up.

There is a nauseating sense of isolation, decay and abandonment. The past cannot be changed, nor escaped; time cannot heal.

If you’re looking for a chilling tale to start off the season’s reading, I can’t think of a finer place to start. I am writing this in the cold light of day though. I still have to sleep tonight. Having said that, I’ve somehow managed to book us on a candlelit late night tour of our local ‘haunted’ stately home and bought tickets for a show called ‘Shivers’, all within the next few weeks.

I’m sure my brain must be a bit loose…..

 

 

 

Paperback, 200 pages
Published 2016 by Vintage (first published October 10th 1983)
Original Title
The Woman in Black
Edition Language
English
Series
The Woman in Black #1