As I constantly drum into the heads of anyone that will listen, I am a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier, even though I have actually own read ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘The Parasites’ and ‘The Rendezvous and Other Stories’. When Virago actually sent me a copy of the re-issued (for the first time in around two decades) ‘The Breaking Point’ I almost popped with joy. After the initial ecstatic feeling one of dread came over me… what if I didn’t like it? What if it hadn’t been published for all this time because really it just wasn’t as good as one of my favourite books ‘Rebecca’ or other greats like ‘Jamaica Inn’? well I should have had dread in mind, but not for the quality of the stories or the writing…
‘The Breaking Point’, named because “characters are caught at those moments when the delicate link between reason and emotion has been stretched to the breaking point”, was originally published in 1959 and hasn’t been published since the early 80’s. Until this year of course! Daphne has always been known to write quite dark tales however this is said to be one of her darkest which of course added to the thrill of reading the book and I have to say that these are incredibly dark and brooding indeed. Written when her husband was ill, she was relocated nearby to a small cramped flat and then faced with her husband’s long term adultery, so possibly in quite a dark place herself.
Now this is a collection of eight of her short stories and me telling you about each and every single one of them might get a little dull and ruin the objective of actually buying the books yourselves. So I will focus on a few and simply say that all of them are quite chilling, even when at first you think that they might not be.
‘Ganymede’ for example is just one such tale, it starts with what seems like a tale of “the unspeakable act” of a classical scholar who when holidaying in Venice becomes besotted and slightly obsessed with a waiter. Of course in this day and age this really isn’t that shocking, however as the tale goes on what could be a romance story has a huge twist that shocks you and is then followed by a small chapter that then makes you completely reshuffle the story and its motive as you read the last line. It’s difficult to review any of these without giving away the twists in the tale at the end which all of them have in abundance.
‘The Pool’ is slightly different, as is ‘The Archduchess’ as they both have a slight, if dark, fairytale quality to them. Both seem to be set in ‘secret other world’ and yet deal with changes in emotion. The first is very much about a girl going through puberty and the change from child to adult and all the emotions that brings, forming women from other worlds that only she can see. Whereas the latter is more about the greed and darkness of the male human psyche and its endless need to devour and control as Daphne describes the made up land of ‘Ronda’ in Europe and its demise. Emotions are also at the forefront of ‘The Chamois’ which is a tale of a couple climbing a mountain and as they climb, the more they are pushed and the more the tensions in their marriage show its incredibly clever and of course has that all important twist.
My two favourites have to be ‘The Alibi’ and ‘The Blue Lenses’ for how dark they are (though ‘The Menace’ – which does what it says – is equally dark) and both of which are easily the eeriest things that I have read in quite some time. ‘The Alibi’ actually made me think of ‘Amercian Psycho’ as a man suddenly whilst walking with his wife, realises that he could kill someone randomly and so he sets about randomly organising it. It’s really, really creepy and the randomness of his decisions and actions makes it all the more real to imagine.
‘The Blue Lenses’ reminded me in some ways of something that Margaret Atwood might come up with. Set in a nursing home Marda West undergoes an operation to bring back her sight via the power of a new find in medicine called ‘The Blue Lenses’. When her sight is regained she sees things more clearly than she thought as people’s personalities create the heads of creatures that have their traits and though it sounds slightly out fo this world and comical, when she meets the person with the snakes head I promise it will chill you and turn you cold.
This is a fantastic collection of short stories be you a fan of Daphne or not! If you like complex and psychological, suspenseful and dark, if you like looking into the depths of the human mind or if you just want a fantastic read I cannot recommend this collection strongly enough. Daphne once again delivers, and it’s a treat for all those who turn the pages.