Don’t Look Now: Selected Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Don't Look NowDon’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.

4 comments to Don’t Look Now: Selected Stories by Daphne du Maurier

  • I’m assuming this is the same author who penned Rebecca? I had no idea there were short stories! I love her writing and will have to seek this one out!

  • Yes, one and the same. I’ve never read Rebecca; in fact, this collection was a Secret Santa gift and I didn’t know much about du Maurier at all. “The Birds” here is the inspiration for the Hitchcock movie, even, but very different, and much better I think.

  • MFB

    I just finished this and it was excellent. I had never liked Hitchock’s The Birds (apparently du Maurier didn’t either…) and the story here is much more compelling. The source for Don’t Look Now (one of my all-time favorite movies) is extremely similar in atmosphere to the film but quite a bit shorter. I think the resulting film stays very close to the spirit of the story. The other tales I didn’t have any familiarity with and they ranged from very good to exceptional.

    I think what really stood out to me was du Maurier’s excellent work in establishing the rationality and subsequent frustration of the protagonists in each story. I am thinking especially of Split Second, which is an infuriating (albeit great) read. In the same way that one is sometimes tempted to scream out to characters on-screen in a horror film as they run up a staircase or hid behind a door in a dead-end room, I wanted to scream at the character in Split Second. This commitment to a subjective rationality is what makes all of the stories compulsively readable.

    The final work, Monte Verità, is more of a novella and sheds some of this rationality for some more overt supernatural goings-on. This was, at once, my most and least favorite story. I loved how du Maurier set up the characters, the little hints and foreshadowing, the briefest characterizations of the changing world in the early to middle part of the century in Europe. All of this great work and buildup, and there was no way I wouldn’t feel at least a bit let down by the conclusion. I still think it was my favorite story and I am encouraged to read some of du Maurier’s full-length novels.

  • I have never seen The Birds, but I did watch Don’t Look Now after reading this and was extremely impressed. And I felt the exact same way about “Monte Verità,” though I was perhaps a bit more disappointed than you, or at least more frustrated. And while I loved these, I have been pretty hesitant to read any of her longer works. I know I will at some point, but I’m afraid they won’t be as good. There is something about this level of craftsmanship that I feel is really hard to maintain in a novel-length work.