The Breaking Point, first published in 1959, is my first book for the Daphne du Maurier Challenge. It’s a collection of eight short stories written after The Scapegoat and before The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. Sally Beauman sums up the stories well in her introduction:
The stories here reflect the concerns of those adjacent books: they are dark, difficult, perturbing – and sometimes shocking. Du Maurier grouped them together under the title The Breaking Point – and they were written during a period when she herself came close to a severe nervous breakdown. They reflect and echo that psychological stress; it runs through them like a fault line. Here, we are a stylistic world away from the smooth technical assurance of her bestselling novels of the 1930s and 1940s: these stories are jagged and unstable; they constantly threaten and alarm; they tip towards the unpredictability of fairy tale, then abruptly veer towards nightmare. They are elliptic, awkward – and they are fascinating. (page ix)
I don’t really need to add much more, other than to indicate the stories themselves.
- The Alibi – about a man wanting to escape his ordinary life who takes on a new identity. He lives a double life, which ends as he becomes involved in two deaths.
- The Blue Lenses – a truly strange tale of a woman undergoing an eye operation who then sees everyone around her having an animal’s head appropriate to their character. She discovers that she is a victim, subject to betrayal and exploitation, fooled by those close to her.
- Ganymede – set in Venice, where a man on holiday is seduced by the beauty of a boy who is killed in a water-skiing accident. He returns home but inevitably he cannot escape his own nature.
- The Pool – a supernatural story with a mystical quality about a young girl reaching puberty and her overwhelming sadness at the loss of the hidden secret world she inhabited.
- The Archduchess – has a fairy tale atmosphere, about an imaginary principality in southern Europe, where the Archduke’s benign reign is overthrown by the insidious influence of two greedy and jealous men.
- The Menace – a silent movie star, a heart-throb until the advent of the ‘feelies’ when it is discovered that his magnetism is almost non-existant. Despite the efforts to raise it by the usual means,such as pretty girls, nothing can be done, until he meets an old friend. This one is much more optimistic than the other stories.
- The Chamois – about a married couple hunting for chamois in the Pindus; a chilling story of fear and fanaticism.
- The Lordly Ones – about a boy who cannot speak and is thought to be backward. Terrorised by his parents and unable to communicate he finds refuge for a while with the ‘lordly ones’.
The stories tell of double lives, split personalities, paranoia and conflict, each one with a ‘breaking point’. My favourite is The Pool.