Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now and Other Stories (1971)

I’m rather embarrassed to review this collection of short stories (novellas rather), because the stories don’t have much in common. It seems as if they had been put together by the publisher rather than by the author herself. Danielle read a collection also featuring “Don’t look now”, but mine (with a picture of the movie on the cover) doesn’t include the same stories as hers: how annoying!

The obvious goal was perhaps to capitalize on the title story’s’ fame and movie – it worked for me (although not for that reason, I chose it because Danielle had praised it), and it’s indeed the best story of the book. So the rest (4 others: “Not after midnight”, “A borderline case”, “The way of the cross” and “The breakthrough”) feels a bit like a mismatch, not really a let-down but something entirely different from the first story. But anyway it would have been an exhausting tour de force to maintain the same level of terror for the whole book.

Centered on John and Laura, a British couple who has gone to Venice in the hope of rekindling their marriage after their young daughter’s death by meningitis, “Don’t look now” has the ingredients of a nightmare and leaves you panting for breath. You just can’t tear yourself from the story although you know very early that it will go wrong for the couple. I love how Du Maurier manages to blend the supernatural into the mundane. At first, the reader and the husband John (we see the story through his eyes alone) both reject this option with their rational mind. It is only acknowledged as a concession to Laura’s grief, however disturbing this notion is.

But later on, the disorientation produced by exhaustion, anguish and stress, by cultural estrangement, and by the strange setting of Venice itself as a maze to be lost in all contribute to make the supernatural more acceptable. It is a very clever shift so that we readers also accept little by little to drift from reality to nightmare. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, but this story should be a required reading for all students of the craft.

I also liked “Not after midnight”, the story of a lonely ageing schoolteacher who vacations in Crete and discovers the strange behavior of his next door neighbors, a strange American couple, who have (or haven’t) secrets related to the ancient Greek god Dionysus. The Crete sea and sun-drenched cliffs landscape is quite vivid, and shows that not only darkness and fog can be terrifying. All along you can choose to believe or not the schoolteacher, who might just have gotten a sunstroke and become delirious.

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