Oh Daphne Du Maurier thank you, thank you, thank you, for ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’. Not only because I loved it as a collection but also because secretly inside I was beginning to worry that while the other books in the read-along for ‘Discovering Daphne’ have also showed how versatile she is as an author, none of them had quite hit the eerie tone I was hoping for this time of year. This now has of course all changed thanks to the five (well four of the five) stories which make this collection. Well I think it has anyway.
It is always hard to write about a short story collection. You want to write about each individual story and yet in doing so you could give the plot of each one away. This becomes ever more possible in a collection like ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’ where they all work so well because of the twists and the turns and stings in the tail, which of course Daphne Du Maurier is so good at. So I am going to briefly summarise them before hopefully giving you an overall ‘feeling’ for the collection, or the one I was left with at least. Let’s see how I do.
Probably the most famous of the collection, because it became a film, is the title story of ‘Don’t Look Now’ which starts with the wonderful, and apt, line “Don’t look now,” John said to his wife, “but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.” Laura and John Baxter are on holiday in Venice after the death of their young daughter, whilst there they spot a pair of elderly identical twins on of whom appears to have psychic powers and not only says their dead daughter is with them and happy, but if they don’t leave Venice something dreadful will happen. I shall say no more on it than that apart from the fact that I the ending isn’t what I guess and I imagine the last line of this tale will divide readers. I haven’t decided if it worked or not yet, I think it did, kind of.
Three of the other tales are equally bizarre and have a sinister undertone at the heart of them shrouded in a good few twists and unexpected endings. ‘A Border-Line Case’ is a fascinating account of a young actress called Shelagh who pursues a man who is linked to the IRA and is planning a bombing raid, only that isn’t the darkest thing about him. ‘The Breakthrough’ is a much more gothic scientific experiment tale in essence which made me think of one of Daphne’s novels ‘The House on the Strand’ only much shorter naturally, but also with even more of a sense of the ilk of novels like ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ at its heart. There was also the wonderful, and possibly my favourite of the collection, ‘Not After Midnight’ (which was the original title of this collection on its release in 1971) which sees a painter meet and befriend a couple on a holiday, the woman invites him to their hotel room but ‘not after midnight’. I really can say no more than that on any of them because they build slowly, start to disconcert the reader and make them question what the narrators or story is saying before twisting and turning to the end. (We can say more in the comments though!)
It was therefore almost a shame for me that the longest tale in the book ‘The Way of the Cross’, and the one in the middle of this collection, really failed for me. (I guess there is always one, at least, in a collection that will do this isn’t there?) It’s a tale of a pilgrimage of a group of people to Jerusalem and it was rather preachy and had a precocious child in it that I didn’t get on with. Plus it was more character than plot driven, both a good and bad thing, whilst also being rather moralistic, and in a way whilst having a slight sinister moment or two ended far too happily for my liking. It didn’t fit for me and that was my problem with it. I think had it been in any other collection of Daphne’s it might have gotten off more lightly, but this has always been a collection sold on it suspense and sense of the supernatural.
Overall however ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Stories’ is a wonderful collection which does have a brooding, intense and often rather unnerving feeling about it. Each tale is very different yet they all like to make you feel equally uneasy. Don’t expect to pick up this book and be unable to sleep without the lights on, they are much more subtle and psychological than that. There is a real knack with any novel that builds on suspense over a long while to not become boring for a reader (which Daphne is also brilliant at), yet in a short story you must do this quickly but not to quickly whilst adding in atmosphere, tension, misdirection etc all at once and in a condensed way. It is this very style which Daphne excels at and I think is when she is at her most engaging for her readers and shows what a marvellous writer she is. I do love Daphne’s short story collections, I think they should all become classics along side this one.