I cannot believe that, after reading and really enjoying Rebecca about eighteen years ago, I have never picked up anything else by Daphne Du Maurier until now. I absolutely loved these unsettling short stories, particularly the title story and one about a man’s ill-treated wife who dies and comes back to haunt him as a tree. All of the stories have a sinister and supernatural element to them and all of them were gripping and very readable.
The most famous story in the collection has to be The Birds, which I enjoyed as a film but preferred as a short story. Even before the birds begin to attack (which happens very quickly – Du Maurier dives straight in to her story), there is a sense of unease rapidly building:
Black and white, jackdaw and gull, mingled in strange partnership, seeking some sort of liberation, never satisfied, never still.”
I was amazed at how quickly Du Maurier builds tension from the first page and sustains it all through the story. The story is never gruesome – that is left to the reader’s imagination – but it certainly made me wary of flocks of birds for a while after reading it! The ending too was beautifully done, and this is definitely one of the best short stories I have ever read.
My other favourite was The Apple Tree, in which a man is haunted by his dead wife in the form of the story’s title. It doesn’t sound very sinister, but this story really demonstrates Du Maurier’s skill I think because of this and the ways in which his wife exacts her revenge as a tree are both enjoyably imaginative and superbly sinister:
“The martyred bent position, the stooping top, the weary branches, the few withered leaves that had not blown away with the wind and rain of the past winter and now shivered in the spring breeze like wispy hair; all of it protested soundlessly to the owner of the garden looking upon it, ‘I am like this because of you, because of your neglect.'”
Although these two were my favourites, the other stories in the collection were also superb and deal with a woman who joins a mysterious community, a number of sinister affairs, and a secretive old man. I will certainly be looking for copies of Du Maurier’s other short story collections after reading this one.