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Tuesday Terror! The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

April 1, 2014

Six of the best…

If proof were needed that Daphne du Maurier knew how to tell a chilling tale, then the fact that Hitchcock chose to make three of her stories into films surely provides it. Rebecca and Jamaica Inn are both full-length novels but the third of the trio is based on the short story which provides the title for this collection. So what could be a more appropriate choice for…

TUESDAY TERROR!

the birdsThe introduction to this edition tells us that Hitchcock did not claim that his film of The Birds was an exact reproduction of du Maurier’s story. “What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget all about the book and start to create cinema.” However, although Hitchcock moved the setting from Cornwall in England to Bodega Bay in California and created a character suitable for one of his famous blondes (in this case, Tippi Hedren), the suspense and horror all originate from du Maurier’s story.

He felt the thud of bodies, heard the fluttering of wings, but they were not yet defeated, for again and again they returned to the assault, jabbing his hands, his head, the little stabbing beaks sharp as a pointed fork.

On a cold winter’s night, Nat Hocken is awoken by the sound of tapping at his window and discovers it’s a bird seemingly trying to get in. Then screams come from the children’s bedroom and when he rushes there, he finds hundreds of birds have come through the window and are attacking his son and daughter. He fights them off, but when he tells his neighbours about the attack the next day they don’t believe him – until reports start to come in over the radio that attacks have been taking place all over the country. No-one knows why the birds have suddenly started attacking and no-one knows how to stop them. Du Maurier creates a wonderfully terrifying atmosphere of isolation and claustrophobia as Nat battles to protect his family, and as with the film both the reasons and the ending are left ambiguous, adding greatly to the horror.

the birds

* * * * * * * * *

The other five stories in the collection stand up well in comparison to The Birds. For me, the highlight was The Apple Tree, which I have already reviewed in Tuesday Terror! The other four are:

Monte Verità – the tale of a mysterious sect which lures women away from their families, never to be seen again. Is there something supernatural about it, or is it a religious cult? And what happens when the villagers eventually decide they will destroy it?

The Little Photographer – a bored and lonely Marquise starts a casual affair with a local photographer, but when he begins to take it too seriously, she finds her marriage and lifestyle threatened. No supernatural threat in this one – this is a story of cruelty and guilt as we are taken inside the mind of the Marquise. Starting light, the story gradually gets darker and darker as we see the lengths to which desperation can drive people…

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier

Kiss Me, Stranger – on going to the cinema one night, the narrator falls in love at first sight with the usherette. This is a very ambiguous story – the narrator believes the girl is flesh and blood, but the reader is left with the sneaking suspicion that she may be a ghost. Touching on the psychological aftermath of the war, this is another deceptively dark story with an ending that is guaranteed to surprise.

The Old Man – the story of an isolated family as seen through the eyes of an outside observer. As the story builds towards a seemingly inevitable tragedy, the narrator watches helplessly – unable to intervene because he doesn’t speak the same language as the family. An odd story, perhaps my least favourite of the collection, but nonetheless beautifully written and building up a truly chilling atmosphere.

…the old man turned like a flash of lightning and came down the other side of the lake towards the marshes, towards Boy. He looked terrible. I shall never forget his appearance. That magnificent head I had always admired now angry, evil; and he was cursing Boy as he came. I tell you, I heard him.

The whole collection gives a great flavour of du Maurier’s style – rarely overtly supernatural and using elements of nature to great effect in building atmospheres filled with tension. From mountains to lakes, bright summer to freezing winter, frightening trees to terrifying birds, nothing can be taken at face value in du Maurier’s world. And her trademark ambiguity leaves room for the reader to incorporate her own fears between the lines of the stories – truly chilling.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

IT’S A FRETFUL PORPENTINE!

porpentine

Fretful porpentine rating: :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock:

Overall story rating:         :D :D :D :D :D

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34 Comments
  1. FEF, another awesome one! I loved film Rebecca, when I viewed it. Man was I shocked. The professor discovered something else about you: You’re a great blurb writer, too! Just one short paragraph and I’m interested in reading the story. I might like this book.

    (What happened to the porpentine?)

    • !!!! I forgot the porpentine !!!! Thanks, C-W-W – now corrected. You’ll have to be my proof-reader…

      I loved Rebecca too, but then I love nearly all Hitchcock films – including The Birds, which gives me both the heebie-jeebies and the screaming ab-dabs. I think you might like this too – I’ve added it to your list… *imagines poor C-W-W’s despairing face and chuckles*

      • No problem! I think it’s the second book to score 5. Coolio.

        *laughing* Screaming ab-dabs…that’s an interest! I like Hitchock too! Really? Yes. This is something I’d read. Have you seen The Rope?

        • Ooh, yes – great film! And based on a true story apparently. My fave Hitch’s are Rear Window and Strangers on a Train, I think, though most of them are brill. Talking of films, True Grit just arrived today – see how much influence you have?

          • A true story? Wowawee!

            Seriously? Too bad I can’t watch it with you… That’s awesome!

            • Apparently, yes! Two young men who committed a murder just to see what it felt like.

              I shall watch it this weekend hopefully – I’ve invited Mic…

            • They needed beat.

              And not the professor?

            • I think they got worse than that…

              Nope! The Professor stood me up last time I invited him for film night, whereas Mic was quite charming…anyway, we can’t talk about you behind your back if you’re here.

            • Ooo! What? Electric chair?

              *cries* I know! Some day soon, we’ll meet! There!

            • I’m not sure – but they definitely got caught.

              Don’t cry! If Mic’s too mean about you, I’ll set Tuppence on him…

            • I’m horribly jealous…

            • Good! *smiles victoriously*

  2. I have never read The Birds. Your writing makes me want to, in addition to the other stories. (Great job on the movie The Birds — setting change was effective, rather than wishing it were Cornwall I suppose.)

    • This was the first time I’d read it too – a really good collection – highly recommended! :)

      The film is great, and I think the sunshine setting worked much better on film than the cold dark Cornwall winter would have. But for the book, the Cornwall setting really worked…

  3. I’m still so cross this disappeared from the freebiegalley, but du Maurier is ALWAYS worth the filthy lucre spent on her!

  4. FictionFan – I couldn’t possibly agree more about Du Maurier’s ability to tell a very creepy, frightening story. She was truly gifted at it, no doubt about it. And thanks for reminding me of this collection. I should dive into it again I think.

    • Yes, she’s really got the gift – never takes it so far that she loses credibility and her understated horrors are much more scary than other people’s gore-fests…

  5. BigSister permalink

    Sounds interesting, but I think I said that when you reviewed “the Apple Tree” -note to self, ” must read”.

  6. I love both Hitchcock and du Maurier for the very reason that their understated ability to give me chills without grossing me out. With Hitchcock, most of the real violence took place off screen supported by his little speech at the end. Great blurbs for each story you posted.

  7. FF, your review makes me want to read THE BIRDS AND OTHER STORIES and re-watch all three of the films Hitchcock based on du Maurier novels. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Angela. :) I must admit I think they’re the dream team as far as psychological terror goes…I feel I’m going to be doing a re-watch myself…

  8. I like the sound of this collection and The Little Photographer sounds just my kind of story as I find stories about the supernatural difficult to read as I end up arguing with myself about whether it is possible or not rather than immersing myself in the story.

    • It was a good one, but the thing I love about these stories is that every single one of them could have a perfectly rational explanation…the suggestion of anything supernatural is left up to the reader to decide…

  9. I started to order this one after your review of The Apple Tree, but something happened and I got sidetracked. Suffice to say I’m off to finish the order now. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Great review Fiction Fan. I like your observations about du Maurier’s writing style – makes me want to read more! I am a Hitchcock fan, but I never realised the Birds was based on a book (but maybe that’s why it was so good?) ;)

    • Thanks, Lucy! I didn’t know The Birds was a du Maurier story either till quite recently. But she really is great at atmosphere and so’s Hitchcock – so an ideal partnership! I think you’d probably enjoy these stories… :)

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