If you didn’t know, this has been Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Reading Week 2021! For which I decided to re-read The Birds & Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier, which I read many moons ago now, in fact it might have been my very first du Maurier read, so it was definitely high-time for a revisit.
The Birds & Other Stories is a collection of six chilling stories, that was first published in 1952 under the title The Apple Tree and later renamed when it was republished in 2004; to link-in, I imagine, with the popularity of Hitchcock’s celebrated 1963 film. While each story is very different from the others, they do all share an uncanny sense of dislocation and mock man’s perceived dominance over life and nature.
To kick things off we have the titular story of The Birds about a simple farmhand and his young family, as they are forced to batten down the hatches of their small cottage against murderous attacks by numberless flocks of crazed birds; all set on the coast of du Maurier’s beloved and picturesque Cornwall. A short horror of isolation and nature fighting back, which is definitely one of the best of the collection.
This is followed by the longest and, I’m afraid I feel, the weakest story of the collection: Monte Verità, which tells of a mountain paradise, home to a secret sect, that lures young women away and promises truth, beauty and immortality, but at a terrible price; told through the eyes of a nameless mountaineer, whose best friend’s wife disappears on a climbing trip. A wonderfully creepy concept, but it is slow and lumbersome in pace and length.
Next up is the original, titular story of The Apple Tree, that follows the actions of a widower, who believes he is being haunted by his late, neglected wife in the form of an old, twisted apple tree in the garden. With an unreliable narrator and his ever more desperate behaviour, this is a frightfully taut tale of guilt, paranoia and dread.
Then du Maurier transports us to the sun-drenched French Mediterranean coast in The Little Photographer, which gives us a glimpse of the life of a rich, beautiful Marquise, through the lens of a local, handsome photographer, who steps out from behind his camera into a torrid affair. This is like a mini-thriller and even though I knew what was coming, I was on the edge of my seat and wishing for the vain Marquise to get her comeuppance!
This is followed by another story of unrequited love in Kiss Me Again, Stranger, that relates an eerie episode in which a shy mechanic has a date with a pretty cinema usherette in a cemetery – only later does he discover the terrible truth about her and what a close shave he might have had! A sad and haunting little tale.
Finally, last but certainly not least, we have the story of The Old Man, which chronicles a family history as told by a neighbour who suspects the jealous father of finding a murderous remedy when three’s a crowd. This is a terribly sad tale with a mind-blowing twist at the end, that you’ll never see coming! And for that reason this is also one of the best of the collection.
All in all, I was thoroughly engrossed with my re-read of The Birds & Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier – I had forgotten what a terrific collection of short scary stories this was, all with du Maurier’s stunning description of place and trademark modern Gothic style. Great read
(I re-read this as part of the Daphne du Maurier Reading Week 2021)
Now over to you: What do you think? Have you read this? Did you read anything by Daphne du Maurier for this week? Any other short story collections your would recommend?