Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Birds & Other Stories

by Daphne Du Maurier (1907-89). A prolific author who I have never read but whose stores have seeped into my consciousness through films. Giles Coren, journalist, novelist and food critic, participating in a book quiz did not know her work and said he thought she was a sort of "chick lit" author. The master of cinema Alfred Hitchcock did not seem to think so (not that that term existed back then; I wonder what other dismissive term was used) and certainly appreciated her imagination, and made a trio of films from her books - Jamaica Inn (1939), Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963). They all have one thing in common, threat and peril.

When this collection of six stories was first published The Birds was not the original story headlined, but a quieter but equally spooky tale, The Apple Tree. The publisher Virago no doubt thought the more familiar story would be a better selling point, and it worked because that is what made me pick it up.

Hitchcock only read The Birds once and said to Francois Truffaut "What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget about the book and start to create cinema" so none of Hitchcock's ice cold blondes appear, or the American locale of California. Du Maurier sets her story in the place that inspired her, Cornwall, and it is probably a more ominous tale not just an apocalyptic allegory, and prescient of the destruction of ecosystems in which a collective consciousness of nature might turn and confront humankind. The story start in an unusually bleak and cold winter, one man tries to protect his family but how successful will he be. There may be no escape in this tale.

All but one of the stories has an element of the supernatural but there is also a sense of the natural world ever present. Here are some one liners of the stories, so as not to give too much away -

Monte Verita; set somewhere in the alpine regions "in the mountains we come closest to whatever Being it is that rules our destiny" and "They have the secret of life in Monte Verita", about a community in the mountains of which the locals are afraid. The narrator tells the story of his friend Victor's marriage to a Welsh girl called Anna which is a happy one, but she is lost to him in the mountains and our narrator tries to find her.

The Apple Tree; may be about madness or a haunting.

The Little Photographer; a story of a bored self centred young woman and an infatuated photographer and a betrayal.

Kiss Me Again Stranger; be careful of who you pick up

The Old Man; who are the strange, isolated family who fascinate our narrator? This is the shortest story in the collection but a quite perfect vignette, with a surprise ending.

Verdict: Great short stories that tell more in 30 pages than perhaps some 300 page books.


Becky said...

I have only read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and it one of my all time favourites. I would love to read this too. Thanks for the review :-) I saw your link to it on the New Authors site

Joy said...

Thanks for the recommend Becky, I am going to search out Rebecca at some point, she seems to do atmospheric peril very well.