Tuesday Terror! The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier

Seeds of fear…

 

Daphne du Maurier’s collection The Birds and Other Stories contains not only the title story that Hitchcock turned into one of his greatest films, but also five other perhaps lesser known stories. So in advance of reading the full collection, I have randomly picked one to feature as this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

Suddenly, for no reason, he was seized with a kind of fear, a feeling of panic almost. What if the smell filled the whole house through the night, came up from the kitchen quarters to the floor above, and while he slept found its way into the bedroom, choking him, stifling him, so that he could not breathe? The thought was ridiculous, insane – and yet…

the birdsThe Apple Tree tells the tale of a recent (unnamed) widower, bereaved but not bereft. Frankly, he had found his wife Midge irritating for years. A self-appointed martyr, she had always managed to make him feel guilty about how little he did around the house and how hard she worked, though he always felt she took on tasks that could easily have been left undone or left for the daily maid. She had always taken the pessimistic view of any piece of news and for years he had felt she sucked the joy out of life. So he happily admits to himself, though not to the world, that her death from pneumonia was more of a relief than a loss. And suddenly he’s enjoying life again – until one day he looks out of his window and spots that one of his apple trees bears an uncanny resemblance to the hunched, drudging image of his late wife…

This is a fine example of what du Maurier does best – creating a chilling atmosphere just bordering on the supernatural but never clearly crossing that line. Although the story is told in the third person, we see it unfold through the widower’s eyes, giving it the effect of an ‘unreliable narrator’. If Midge was as the widower saw her, then his happiness at her death is understandable. But how much did he contribute to making her what she became? We catch glimpses of the young woman she once was, trying to please the husband she loved and having her enthusiasm stamped on by this man who clearly looked down on her. Is the widower to be pitied or condemned? And is the story one of a ghostly haunting or of self-inflicted psychological horror brought on by guilt?

As the seasons wear past, the tree affects the widower more and more – its blossom horribly overblown to his eyes, while seeming to be admired by others; its fruit disgusting to him while seeming fine to his daily maid; the smell of the wood from a fallen branch that he burns nauseating…choking. And in all its oversized ugliness, it hides the beauty of the little tree next to it – a tree that reminds the widower of a girl he once knew, perhaps a little too well. At last he decides to do what he has been putting off for too long – he will chop the tree down…

Up and down went the heavy axe, splitting and tearing at the tree. Off came the peeling bark, the great white strips of underwood, raw and stringy. Hack at it, blast at it, gouge at the tough tissue, throw the axe away, claw at the rubbery flesh with the bare hands. Not far enough yet, go on, go on.

Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier

Supernatural or psychological, either way this is a superbly written chiller. Du Maurier uses the weather to great effect, as she often does, going from the contrast of sunny blossomy summer days to the bitter cold and snow of deep winter. She never piles on the horror – instead she lets the atmosphere build slowly and gradually, making the reader share in the widower’s growing revulsion. And the ending works beautifully to leave the reader’s spine a-tingling…

Fretful porpentine rating 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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

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43 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier

  1. FictionFan – Yes, indeed. Trust du Maurier to create that eerie, chilling atmosphere that gives the suggestion of something looming ‘out there’ without, as you say, crossing the line. And I’ve always found her writing style so excellent. I think part of the power of her work is also that she invites readers to use their imaginations, which to me adds to the suspense.

    • Yes, the suggestion is much more effective than descriptions of gore etc. I read a lot of her books when I was younger but don’t think I’ve read any of her short stories – looking forward to the rest of the collection.

  2. I’ve never read Daphne Du Maurier although she’s one of those names that always seems to be floating around in the ether. Your review has sold me. I think I’ll finally give her a read.

    • I’ve read a lot of her books in the past, but am new to her short stories – very impressed so far. But then anyone who can impress Hitchcock has to have something going for her…

  3. It is amazing how many of Daphne Du Maurier’s stories have not only been turned into films but very good films at that: The Birds, Don’t Look Now, Rebecca, and Jamaica Inn. Margot is right in writing that, “the power of her work is also that she invites readers to use their imaginations, which to me adds to the suspense”.

    • Rebecca is one of my all-time favourite films and The Birds is one of the scariest. I’m always a sucker for Hitchcock though – for the same reason. His horror was mainly done by suggestion too – no need for gore-splattered corpses or zombies…

      • You will be too young to remember this but there was a Friday night ITV series under the heading of ‘Don’t Watch Alone’ during the 1970s. It was always a double bill and i’m sure that is when I first saw Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. The chap without eyes haunted me for years.

        • Thanks for those first few words, Chris – you just got promoted to favourite commenter! 😉

          I don’t remember that particular series but it was probably around then that I first saw it too – terrifying! I’ve always been a bit scared of birds anyway and the film really didn’t help. Any time I see birds sitting on wires or roof tops I get the heebee-jeebies…

  4. I read a lot of Du Maurier at one time, though not this story, and I always found her use of atmosphere and ambiguity chilling. Looks like I’ll be forced to add this to the TBR. 🙂

    • Yes, I read a lot of her books when I was younger too, but don’t think I’ve read any of her short stories – though as I type that, it occurs to me that I have read Don’t Look Now. But certainly I don’t recognise any of the ones in this collection. It’s looking good so far, and I’m delighted to be pushing your TBR back up… 😉

  5. Oh yes, yes and YES we are in total accord here FF – a wonderful writer, and through understatement, careful craft and sheer writerly magic, a definite cold spooky icy breath down the back of the neck. I think, I just think, this may be a MUST of a re-read. Thankyou for the happy alert. I agree absolutely with what Margot says, she engages the READER’s imagination and makes you do part of the work in spooking yourself. The lesser writer does too much of the work and often spells each howl or drop of gore out in stultifying detail so that there it gets done to death.

    Off to rummage for this to be added to the TBRR (or even TBRRRR pile!

    • Sadly it seems to have disappeared from NetGalley – which is odd because it doesn’t say it’s been archived. I was hoping to pop back in and get Rebecca which was also on offer at the same time, but it also seems to have disappeared…spooky!!!

      • Oh blast (the disappeared Du Mauriers from the Galley – I’ve been avoiding NG a bit as I have all these impulse-from-bloggers-and-reviewers bought books to wade through) I was so cross at NO Du Maurier that the only solution was to make pancakes. And eat them.

  6. du Maurier has a gift for taking ordinary situations and using them to unexpectedly drop ice cubes down one’s back. Thanks for an excellent review.

  7. I’ve read Rebecca but haven’t read these stories. She’s such an evocative writer, so gifted at setting a mood. I will be reading these stories, thanks for the suggestion.

  8. I’m feeling really quite stupid as I didn’t realise that Du Maurier wrote The Birds. I have to say, horror not being one of the genres I pick, that this really sounds like a collection I’d enjoy. Another fantastic review 🙂

    • Thanks Cleo! I don’t think I knew that till quite recently either. But I think Hitchcock changed the story quite a bit – I’ll find out when I read it. I think you might well enjoy these – more literary and atmospheric rather than relying on gore…

  9. ‘Rebecca’ is the only of her books that I’ve read, but you’ve inspired me to find some of her other tales – not sure why I haven’t, actually, because ‘Rebecca’ is a favorite. Such a brilliantly eerie book!

    • She seems to have been out of fashion for a long time, but they seem to be republishing lots of her stuff. I really like her writing – very atmospheric…and her horror stories are what I think of as proper horror – psychological rather than gore. It’s easy to see why Hitchcock liked her so much…

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