Don’t Look Now and Other Stories

“When one’s father dies there is so much that has been left unsaid.”

Daphne du Maurier

So I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation on the Gormenghast trilogy and Rebecca, except that it keeps turning into a dissertation on Gormenghast, because the book is so damn hypnotic. In an attempt to reverse this trend, I’m trying to immerse myself in du Maurier. Hence Don’t Look Now, a collection of short stories by that esteemed author.

It’s been ages since I read a short story collection, and I don’t think I’ve actually reviewed one before, not even on Goodreads. So bear with me if I ramble.

There’s a gulf of difference between these stories and the beautiful claustrophobia of Rebecca, but even so the stories bear traces of du Maurier’s skill in creating atmosphere. They’re all stories about travel, about holidays, about being away from home; the inescapability of being far from familiarity, the horror of it, how distance can change you and bleed into your everyday life. It’s interesting what du Maurier does with this, if not always successful. There are only five stories; I think I’ll go through them one by one.

Don’t Look Now. The title story, which apparently formed the base for a film adaptation. A couple holidaying in Venice is haunted by the ghost of their dead daughter. This is possibly the creepiest story of the collection, although the ending felt a little contrived. Venice in the dark is wonderfully atmospheric, though.

Not After Midnight. Another effective horror tale about a teacher visiting Crete who becomes entangled with an unpleasant drunkard American. Du Maurier is ambiguous about what’s actually going on here, which is interesting if a little irritating. But, again, it’s amazing how creepy she can make a bright holiday destination like Greece.

A Border-Line Case. I found this one a bit random, and the twist is creepy but for the wrong reasons.

The Way of the Cross. By far my favourite here, it’s a story about a group of pilgrims to modern Jerusalem. It’s not creepy at all, not Gothic in the manner I’d expect from du Maurier, but there’s something really lovely and clever about how the city changes all of the characters in ways they weren’t quite expecting. It’s a story about people, and how circumstances can redeem even the most lost of us. I loved it.

The Breakthrough. This is more SF than anything else – a story of dodgy scientific experimentation on a remote moor, it’s easily inferior to any of the stories apart from perhaps “A Border-Line Case”.

A solid collection, then, and I wouldn’t be averse to reading more of du Maurier’s short stories. None of them really come close to Rebecca, though, unfortunately.

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