Palimpsest  

Go Back   Palimpsest > Reviews > Book Reviews

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 4th Jul 2006, 17:49   #1
John Self
Administrator
suffers from smallness of vision
 
John Self's Avatar
 
Join Date: 27 Jun 2003
Location: Belfast
Posts: 15,939
Default Daphne du Maurier

It's typical of my wrongheaded priorities that the only time I've been inclined to read a book by Daphne du Maurier - author of Rebecca! Creator of The Birds! - was when I saw a book of her stories issued in Penguin Modern Classics at the weekend. That'll do it.



Most of her stuff seems to be published by Virago, so I guess this will be my only du Maurier fill for the foreseeable future... Anyway, Don't Look Now and Other Stories isn't, so far as I can tell, a 'best of' (and it doesn't include The Birds), but a stand-alone collection of stories she published in 1971. This makes sense, as the famous film based on the title story, directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, came out in 1973. And perhaps someone who's seen it can confirm whether the cover shot is a still from the film.

Having read the story, I can see why the film it inspired is so famous (and not because of the realistic sex: none of that between these covers): it's brilliantly creepy and sinister, wonderfully reducing Venice from city of romance to a tawdry, soiled backdrop for cruelty and paranoia. Clearly it didn't affect their tourist industry though. I knew the vague bones of the story - dead child, couple go on hols to recuperate, spooky goings-on, child in red cloak omnipresent, lots of water, oh and that 'real' sex - and that's all you need to know too if you're a newcomer like me. The opening line is great:

Quote:
"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."
- which, cleverly, is actually a joke and not a sinister opening ... only for it to become sinister very quickly.

There are four other stories in this collection, all - like Don't Look Now - around the 50-60 page length: Not After Midnight, A Border-Line Case, The Way of the Cross and The Breakthrough. Further bulletins as events warrant, but I'll note in passing that the author I'm most reminded of is Patricia Highsmith, whose fiction of course also caught Hitchcock's eye.

By the way if it's a deal-breaker, please note that the introduction by Susan Hill which this collection boasts on the Penguin website, isn't actually there. Spirited away?

And now the floor is open for others who have read more than just one story by du Maurier to point out where I've got her all wrong...
__________________
Reading Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate | Asylum | Book List
John Self is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 18:32   #2
John Self
Administrator
suffers from smallness of vision
 
John Self's Avatar
 
Join Date: 27 Jun 2003
Location: Belfast
Posts: 15,939
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

I meant to add that the very last sentence of the story Don't Look Now risks reducing the whole thing to bathos - it's very badly judged and should have been cut in half, so the last word is 'fainter' - or even removed altogether so the last words are '...purpose they had come.' Other than that, well done du Maurier Jr.
__________________
Reading Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate | Asylum | Book List
John Self is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 19:18   #3
amner
Administrator
is beyond help
 
amner's Avatar
 
Join Date: 10 Apr 2003
Location: Cambridge
Posts: 10,918
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

You've not seen Don't Look Now?!?!

Er, anyway, it's reminiscent of the movie, but it's not from it, no...
__________________
amner is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 21:11   #4
HP
Senior Palimpsester
suckles at the teat of the Palim-God
 
Join Date: 2 Dec 2004
Posts: 2,929
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

Well I'm certainly no du Maurier expert having only read three of her novels - Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek, and Jamaica Inn - but I've no hesitation in saying they were all excellent. Too long ago to remember specific details, of course, but in that vague way that you do, I've mentally boxed and labelled her as 'seriously, seriously good - if a little dated'. That said, the datedness was not an issue really, because her storytelling skills are such you're compelled to turn those pages till there are no more. I'd certainly read more of her work, I know that. She's one of those gifted writers who manages to conjure up a very strong and compelling atmosphere - a mist of gripping suspense with evil overtones, that binds you to the page and completely blankets off real life - as all successful fiction does. All done without falling into hammy melodrama. Apparently, if my memory serves me right, not only was she a seriously gifted and highly intelligent writer, but was colourful enough to cause a fair degree of scandal due to her private shennanigans... which makes her even more alright, in my book!
HP is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 21:41   #5
John Self
Administrator
suffers from smallness of vision
 
John Self's Avatar
 
Join Date: 27 Jun 2003
Location: Belfast
Posts: 15,939
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

Quote:
Originally Posted by HoneyPotts
that binds you to the page and completely blankets off real life
This is true, based on the two stories I've read so far. The second one, Not After Midnight, is less revelatory than Don't Look Now, and less cleanly concluded, but still exudes an air of menace and holds you in place, on the bay in Greece where it's set, until the end.
__________________
Reading Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate | Asylum | Book List
John Self is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 22:02   #6
Lizzy Siddal
Palimpsestarian
is a palimpsestin' fool!
 
Lizzy Siddal's Avatar
 
Join Date: 10 Feb 2006
Location: Lanarkshire, Scotland
Posts: 696
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

I also avoided Du Maurier for years - completely put off by those brightly coloured covers indicating romantic tosh. Yet, when Virago started to republish in those enigmatic dark covers, I had a mini-binge. Rebecca (superb), The Scapegoat (strange but addictive), Jamaica Inn (very gothic), Rule Britannia (a political pastiche of what happens when America occupies Britain), and The House on the Strand (time travel!).

I have a few more in the TBR : My Cousin Rachel, Mary Anne, Frenchman's Creek, The Loving Spirit and Castle D'Or. I have also quite a few more to buy. I pop one into my amazon basket every now and then .... The Parasites will probably be my next Du Maurier acquisition.

Pray tell, Mr Self, what have you got against Virago? The covers are wonderful and they look superb on the bookshelf. Here's samplers of my favourite titles to date:



__________________
Reviews at Lizzy's Literary Life
Lizzy Siddal is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 22:19   #7
John Self
Administrator
suffers from smallness of vision
 
John Self's Avatar
 
Join Date: 27 Jun 2003
Location: Belfast
Posts: 15,939
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

Time travel, political satire...! I had no idea she was so protean.

Quote:
Pray tell, Mr Self, what have you got against Virago?
Dunno... I think there's just something about that goddam crappy apple logo that just gets my goat. And those du Maurier covers actually look a bit kitsch to me, with their fading-out oversaturated pictures... I think it's a lingering effect (in my head) of when they were an independent press and their books looked really amateurish. Now they're owned by Time Warner or somebody like that I think. Their website's quite good though.

Still, if du Maurier's as good as she seems, I may just have to bite the bullet.
__________________
Reading Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate | Asylum | Book List
John Self is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 4th Jul 2006, 22:27   #8
Lizzy Siddal
Palimpsestarian
is a palimpsestin' fool!
 
Lizzy Siddal's Avatar
 
Join Date: 10 Feb 2006
Location: Lanarkshire, Scotland
Posts: 696
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

Virago's site is effective. Did I say I was going to purchase The Parasites next? Wrong again. I found that The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte exerted an irresistible pull ......
__________________
Reviews at Lizzy's Literary Life
Lizzy Siddal is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 5th Jul 2006, 12:15   #9
amner
Administrator
is beyond help
 
amner's Avatar
 
Join Date: 10 Apr 2003
Location: Cambridge
Posts: 10,918
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

I've read Rebecca, I ought to say, and it's bloody good (the Hitchcock movie is better though, but that's just me). And, of course, it has one of the most famous opening passages of descriptive prose ever:

Quote:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
No smoke came from the chimney, and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and tuning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; it was narrow and unkept, not the drive that we had known At first I was puzzled and did not understand, and it was only when I bent my head to avoid the low swinging branch of a tree that I realised what had happened. Nature had come into her own again and little by, little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church. And there were other trees as well, trees that I did not recognise, squat oaks and tortured elms that straggled cheek by jowl with the beeches, and had thrust themselves out of the quiet earth, along with monster shrubs and plants,none of which I remembered.
The drive was a ribbon now, a thread of its former self, with gravel surface gone, and choked with grass and moss. The trees had thrown out low branches, making an impediment to progress; the gnarled roots looked like skeleton claws. Scattered here and again amongst this jungle growth I would recognise shrubs that had been land-marks in our time, things of culture and of grace, hydrangeas whose blue heads had been famous. No hand had chocked their progress, and they had gone native now, rearing to monster height without a bloom, black and ugly as the nameless parasites that grew beside them.
On and on, now east, now west, wound the poor thread that once had been our drive. Sometimes I thought it lost, but it appeared again, beneath a fallen tree perhaps or struggling on the other side of a muddied ditch created by the winter rains. I had not thought the way so long. Surely the miles had multiplied, even as the trees had done, and this path led but to a labyrinth, some choked wilderness, and not to the house at all. I came upon it suddenly; the approach masked by the unnatural growth of a vast shrub that spread in all directions, and I stood, my heart thumping in my breast, the strange prick of tears behind my eyes.
There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.
The terrace sloped to the lawns, and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of silver, placid under the moon, like a lake undisturbed by wind or storm. No waves would come to ruffle this dream water, and no bulk of cloud, wind-driven from the west, obscure the clarity of this pale sky. I turned again to the house, and though it stood inviolate, untouched, as though we ourselves had left but yesterday, I saw that the garden had obeyed the jungle law, even as the woods had done. The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high, twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs, poor, bastard things. that clung about their roots as though conscious of their spurious origin. A lilac had mated with a copper beech, and to bind them yet more closely to one another the malevolent ivy, always an enemy to grace, had thrown her tendrils about the pair and made them prisoners. Ivy held prior place in this lost garden, the long strands crept across the lawns, and soon would encroach upon the house itself. There was another plant too, some halfbreed from the woods, whose seed had been scattered long ago beneath the trees and then forgotten, and now, marching in unison with the ivy, thrust its ugly form like a giant rhubarb towards the soft grass where the daffodils had blown.
Nettles were everywhere, the van-guard of the army. They choked the terrace, they sprawled, about the paths, they leant, vulgar and lanky, against the very windows of the house. They made indifferent sentinels, for in many places their ranks had been broken by the rhubarb plant, and they lay with crumpled heads and listless stems, making a pathway for the rabbits. I left the drive and went on to the terrace, for the nettles were no barrier to me, a dreamer, I walked enchanted, and nothing held me back.
Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, even upon a dreamer's fancy. As I stood there, hushed and still, I could swear that the house was not an empty shell but lived and breathed as it had lived before.
__________________
amner is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 5th Jul 2006, 17:38   #10
John Self
Administrator
suffers from smallness of vision
 
John Self's Avatar
 
Join Date: 27 Jun 2003
Location: Belfast
Posts: 15,939
Default Re: Daphne du Maurier

The remaining three stories in Don't Look Now were slightly disappointing, perhaps because of the gold standard established by the title story. In all of the stories, the protagonist travels somewhere and finds themselves mixed up in no good. A Border-Line Case (the hyphen is relevant) is about an actress who goes to Ireland to find out about her father's past - it has a certain twistiness and is quite satisfying, but by this stage I was starting to feel that one of du Maurier's weaknesses is over-writing. There was no particular reason why all the stories had to be 50-60 pages long, and increasingly it felt like some sort of target length she felt she must achieve. Similarly, The Way of the Cross felt over-long, and for me was rather obscure in the way of much fiction with a religious subject matter (the location this time, fact fans, was Jerusalem). The last and shortest story, The Breakthrough, tells about a group of scientists in an isolated army camp, whose work to harness the energy and intelligence lost when a human being dies, goes horribly wrong. This one felt like John Wyndham on an off-day.

It also brought home to me the truth of HoneyPotts' comment above that du Maurier is 'a little dated.' Indeed she is. Although these stories were published in the 1970s, they have the feel of an earlier era: the 50s, most likely, or even the 40s or 30s. It's to do, I think, with the formality of her prose and slightly fussy presentation of society. No doubt this was bang up-to-date when she started writing in the 1930s, but my guess is that she kept the same style despite times and language changing around her.

Not bad then, overall: worth it for Don't Look Now, but for the rest of the stories, the watchword must be Perhaps Read Later.

__________________
Reading Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate | Asylum | Book List
John Self is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply


Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Andre Gide: Lafcadio's Adventures (Les caves du vatican) rick green Book Reviews 17 6th Apr 2008 19:22


All times are GMT +1. The time now is 11:24.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.