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…
The 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.
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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…
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!
Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯
Overall story rating: 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀