The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Disappointing…

🙂 🙂 😐

Although this was apparently the last collection of short stories to be published in du Maurier’s lifetime, most of the fourteen stories in it date from her early twenties, with only a handful from later in her career. I feel that shows – these are not her best work, with some of them ranking as pretty poor, in my opinion. In general I found them rather unoriginal, often padded and repetitive to a length far longer than the story justified, with “twists” that were all too obvious. But what really put me off the collection was the almost complete lack of likeable characters. There is, I feel, a kind of cruelty towards the characters – they start out miserable, go through hell, and come out worse than they began; not in every case, but often enough for me to have remarked several times in my contemporaneous notes that she really doesn’t seem to like people, especially women. Her women are either weak and ripe to be victims, or they are manipulative, cruel and cold. There is rarely love in the pages though there’s plenty of lust, desire and rather sordid infidelity. The rare “good” character seldom achieves any kind of reward or happy ending, while many of the nasty ones do quite well for themselves. My misery meter swung towards high quite early on, and by the end it was hovering consistently in the danger zone – only copious supplies of medicinal chocolate got me through.

As you’d expect, they’re well enough written and some of the descriptive writing is very good. Occasional stories are lighter, with some humour, and those tended to work better for me. I listened to the audiobook version read by Edward de Souza, and to be honest I think it was only the excellence of his narration that kept me going to the end. Overall, then, of the fourteen stories, I rated only five as excellent or good, while five rated as poor and the remaining four were middling.

Book 16 of 20

Here’s a brief flavour of the three I rated most highly…

The Supreme Artist – an ageing actor is visited in his changing room after a performance one day by a woman who seems to remember him from a youthful romantic dalliance which he has completely forgotten. However, it would be rude to say so, and he’s an actor, so he throws himself into the part, playing a man who has spent his life hiding the broken heart she left him with. He may or may not convince the woman, but he gradually begins to convince himself! There’s a lot of humour in this and it’s a fun characterisation, done very well.

Leading Lady – an actress this time, not ageing, but no longer in the first blush of youth. She is about to star in a play being produced by a man she has never worked with before. He wants an up-and-coming young actor to play the male lead, but the actress has seen this young man act and fears he will outshine her, with both youth and novelty on his side. But the producer is the money man, of course, so she can’t simply refuse. So she sets out to manipulate the producer into deciding for himself that the young actor shouldn’t get the role. This is also well done, although it’s one of the many where the woman has nothing admirable about her. And frankly, it reads rather differently after the MeToo movement and the many recent scandals in the world of acting than it would have done before – the element that might have seemed humorous when it was written doesn’t seem quite so funny any more.

Escort – A merchant ship is sailing home to England during WW2, through seas dangerous with U-boats. The captain is taken ill so the First Officer, our narrator, finds himself in charge. A U-boat finds them but a sudden fog rolls up just in time to save them. When the fog recedes, an old sailing barque appears, and hails them to offer them a safe escort home. This has a spooky element to it, which is done well. As far as I can find out it must have been written during the war, and it has a definite patriotic message, one designed to draw on British pride in great naval victories of the past. To be truthful, it mirrors very closely a famous story written by Arthur Machen during WW1, The Bowmen, except that his is set on land and draws on a different but equally heroic British legend. Had du Maurier read it, or is it coincidence? I don’t know, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

So a disappointing collection for me, and one more suitable for du Maurier completists than for newcomers wanting to sample her work.

Audible UK Link

35 thoughts on “The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

  1. I’ve read the Machen story and I agree this last mentioned story sounds to be in the same vein, yet it is part of a long tradition of narratives with such supernatural happenings leading to rescue or victory. I’m sorry this collection didn’t live up to expectations; still, I’ve another selection of her stories somewhere which I’d like to try before attempting Rebecca – I never got far with DdM’s completion of Quiller-Couch’s Castle Dor and that has coloured my assessment of her so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I suppose that’s true, but I did find the format of the two stories very similar. However, given the war background a bit of patriotism can be forgiven even if it’s not original! I’ve read a couple of her other collections and enjoyed them much more than this, but I haven’t had much success with her novels, except for Rebecca. And even with it I do wonder if it’s the film that has made it such a classic…

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  2. She did write some very unpleasant characters, didn’t she, FIctionFan? And I can see how that would drag down your reading. It’s really interesting that these stories weren’t published until late in her life; I wonder if they were published then because by then she’d done well enough that it was thought they’d do well? On the other hand, I have some sympathy; trust me when I tell you that some of the stuff I wrote in my 20s should never see the light of day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • She did! And because they came one after another in this collection it became very obvious, and made the collection depressingly bleak. I wondered that too, and I wondered if it had been her own decision to revive these old stories or if she was pushed into it by her publisher. I’m never convinced juvenilia or very early works of a successful author should be released – they rarely impress!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry I didn’t even read about the individual stories it all just sounded too miserable for words, at first I was disappointed the DdM had written something that only warranted 3 stars, but that has turned to relief that I don’t have to add it to my list, thank you!

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    • Haha, always happy to help keep other people’s TBRs down! 😉 I’m never convinced re-issuing an author’s very early work is a good idea, and these really did give quite a bleak view of humanity.

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  4. I’ve read all of du Maurier’s short story collections and I think this one is definitely the weakest, probably because most of the stories were written so early in her career. Looking back at my review I see that apart from Escort, which we both liked, I picked out completely different ones as favourites!

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    • Oh, I must pop over and see which ones you liked best! Yes, it was disappointing – I’ve enjoyed a couple of her collections far more than this. She seemed to take a particularly bleak view of humanity in a lot of these stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sorry this one failed to live up to your expectations, FF (but from what you’ve reviewed, I think I’d be solidly in your corner!) At least you stuck through it until the end. Must have been an excellent narrator!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The narrator can really make or break an audiobook – I’ve stuck with books I’m not wildly enjoying because of a good narration, and abandoned other books that I think are good because the narrator is annoying me! It’s definitely a different experience to reading….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Du Maurier is a peculiar writer, I find. I often find her main characters cruel or ruthless. For example, in Frenchman’s Creek, the heroine walks out on her children without a second thought and goes to sea with a pirate.

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  7. At least you finished it, thanks to a good narration! That’s how I felt when I listened to Tom Hank’s collection of short stories. If he hadn’t narrated it, I would never have finished them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A narrator really can make or break an audiobook, can’t they? I’ve kept going with books I’ve not been enjoying much because the narration is good, and I’ve abandoned good books because the narrator has annoyed me! It’s a different experience to reading…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, once I’d begun to notice it in this collection I started to think back over the few novels of hers I’ve read, and realised that I often don’t like the characters much. Especially Rachel, but even Maxim annoyed me when I re-read Rebecca quite recently. And Mrs de Winter is decent, but she falls into the weak victim category for most of the novel, though she does improve towards the end!

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  8. At this point I am more interested in reading du Maurier’s novels anyway, but I was surprised in the small sample of her short stories that I have read to find them so different from the one book I have read, Rebecca. On the other hand I guess I have read other authors where the tone of novels is different from shorter works. All very interesting.

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    • I usually love her short stories because of the horror aspects, which I think she does very well. But this collection didn’t really have horror aspects – they were straight stories, though often with some kind of “twist”. And I felt they didn’t have the originality of some of her later shorts. I’ve had a mixed reaction to her novels – I loved Rebecca, but have found the other couple I’ve tried rather disappointing. I’m not sure if I’m really a dedicated fan overall…

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      • Maybe I would like these stories more than the horror stories, who knows? But without likable characters? Maybe not.

        I have Jamaica Inn to read for sure, and I want to the The Scapegoat. After those I will see whether I want to continue.

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        • I have a later collection of some of her spookier stories which I’d like to get to this autumn, but then I think I’ll take a break from her for a while. Loads of people love her far more than me though, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the ones you have!

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    • I enjoyed Rebecca a lot though to be honest I preferred the film! Some of her short story collections are very good too – she wrote a lot of spooky stuff, like The Birds and Don’t Look Now.

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