Don’t Look Now is a collection of Daphne du Maurier short stories selected by Patrick McGrath. The selection is excellent; the nine stories all share an atmosphere that holds them together just the right amount.
Most of the stories are on the longer side, which is something that doesn’t usually appeal to me (the longest, “Monte Verità,” runs to some 80 pages). The title story, set in Venice, was one of my favorites: a married couple, having recently lost a small daughter to meningitis, take a vacation to get through their grief and reconnect to each other. The wife, the more distraught of the two, meets elderly twins that bring news of the girl from beyond the grave. The wife is, of course, deeply affected by this, while her husband is worried for her own well-being. We follow the husband through his frustration and concern, our mind always on the noxious influence of the twins and the precariousness of the couple’s grieving process. The lost little girl is always there, hinting at impending tragedy. When that tragedy does strike, we have been so misled!
This is what really works in each of the stories. A constant tension, a tone set right from the beginning of each story and not so much built up as left to plateau for the duration, perhaps until a very sharp peak, but often left to continue after we’ve left the characters behind, as it does in “The Birds,” which may be one of my new favorite short stories period. That tension works perfectly with du Maurier’s chosen themes: sex and death, the supernatural, clairvoyance, paranoia. The stories are dark and moody without being the least bit depressing or melodramatic, and despite the Gothic elements one of du Maurier’s strengths here is realism. Eerie goings-on in utterly ordinary places among utterly ordinary people, their psychology and relationships represented brilliantly and then altered just that little bit.