I admit to having learned about Daphne du Maurier from Alfred Hitchcock, and then only after my wife pointed her out to me. I read our copy of Rebecca with appreciation—a good gothic novel will never steer you wrong. I saw the movie first, however. Learning that she’d also written “The Birds” (not the screenplay), I tried to find a book of her stories in various bookshops only to discover that American bookstores tend not to stock her work (beyond, perhaps, Rebecca). Eventually I started searching online for collections that contained “The Birds.” I settled on Don’t Look Now, which includes that story as well. When researching The Wicker Man I learned that Don’t Look Now (the movie) had A billing to the former film’s B place. I decided I’d read the story first, which I’ve now done.
There are several intriguing tales included in this particular collection. The one that I found most haunting was the final story, “Monte Verità.” The narrative of a woman who finds peace in an ancient commune on the titular mountain, it was difficult to read without wanting to find that kind of satisfaction. Particularly for someone who has had lifelong cenobitic tendencies. Those of us who struggle against the 925 life, beholden as it is to the great god capitalism, and who require time to think, contemplate, and just to be, this mythic mountain does indeed sound like finding what it is that you’re seeking. Du Maurier tells the story with such longing that you think she must’ve been there herself. As a writer I’m sure she had been, in a sense.
Du Maurier was, it should be no surprise, quite a versatile writer. Some of these stories are gothic and others more naturalistic. They do tend towards the darkness, but not the kind that leads to despair. They also reflect a time in publishing when longer short stories were acceptable. (Most accessible online fiction publishing venues cut their limits far too short these days.) Some stories really take time to get into. “Monte Verità” is one such, as is “Don’t Look Now.” They take time to build up. “The Birds” isn’t exactly brief either. The trend these days is for the quick payoff. We have lost something as a culture with such short attention spans. This collection of nine pieces provide a good sample of different shades of darkness. And they encourage further reading.