First Chapter First Paragraph: Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week’s book is Don’t Look Now: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier, a book I’m about to start reading.

Don't Look Now and Other Stories

‘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.’

Laura, quick on cue, made an elaborate pretence of yawning, then tilted her head as though searching the skies for a non-existent aeroplane.

‘Right behind you,’ he added. ‘That’s why you can’t turn round at once – it would be much too obvious.’

Blurb (Amazon):

John and Laura have come to Venice to try and escape the pain of their young daughter’s death. But when they encounter two old women who claim to have second sight, they find that instead of laying their ghosts to rest they become caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events.

The four other haunting, evocative stories in this volume also explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires: a lonely teacher who investigates a mysterious American couple, a young woman confronting her father’s past, a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem and a scientist who harnesses the power of the mind to chilling effect.

~~~

After I’ve read it I shall watch the film – Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland play the parts of Laura and John in the 1973 film.

Don't Look Now  (Digitally Restored) [DVD] [1973]

I wonder how well it follows the original story? And will it infuriate me if it doesn’t? I hope not.

Favourite Books: August 2007 – 2010

I’ve been really enjoying looking back at some of my favourite books and this month I’m  looking back at some I read in August in each of the years 2007 ‘“ 2010. Click on the titles to see my original reviews.

Looking back at these books makes me want to re-read each one. I was enthralled by them all:

2007

There is so much I loved in Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, a thrilling, spine tingling story of mystery, mysticism and magic, abounding with symbolism. It’s a modern day gothic epic, mixing computer technology with witchcraft, alchemy and the power of the human mind, in the search for enlightenment.

I raced through the book with that nervous tension anticipating danger that you feel watching a horror film build up, leaving me breathless as I read.

Gabriel Blackstone is a computer hacker by trade, and by inclination he is a remote viewer; someone whose unique gifts enable him to ‘˜slam rides’ through the thought processes of others. He is contacted by an ex-lover who begs him to use his gift to find Ronnie, her stepson, last seen months earlier in the company of two sisters, Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk (wonderful names). The beautiful and mysterious sisters are descendants of Dr John Dee, a mathematical genius, alchemist and secret adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. Both of them bewitch Gabriel as he seeks to unravel the mystery behind Robbie’s disappearance.

2008

August 2008 found me reading a completely different genre – Pompeii by Robert Harris is historical fiction. The story begins in August AD 79 just two days before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and builds up to a climax. Whilst most people are blissfully unaware of what is about to be unleashed upon them one man ‘“ the engineer Marius Attilius Primus realises the danger when the aqueduct Aqua Augusta fails to supply water to the people in the nine towns around the Bay of Naples. Then Vesuvius erupts destroying the town of Pompeii and killing its inhabitants as they tried to flee the pumice, ash and searing heat and flames.

The book brought history to life and I could feel the danger and fear as Vesuvius inevitably destroyed Pompeii. I particularly liked mixture of fictional and historical characters and the inclusion of Pliny, then the Admiral of the Fleet, as he watched and recorded the progress of the eruption and the account of his death.

2009

In August 2009 I read The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories which gives a glimpse into the mind of Daphne Du Maurier. Rebecca has long been one of my favourite books, so I was fascinated to read the notes she made as she was writing the book. She began to write Rebecca in 1937 when she was thirty years old, living in Alexandria and feeling homesick for Cornwall. She jotted down chapter summaries in a notebook, setting the book in the mid 1920s ‘˜about a young wife and her slightly older husband, living in a beautiful house that had been in his family for generations.’

As she thought about it ideas sprang to her mind ‘“ a first wife ‘“ jealousy, something terrible would happen ‘“ a wreck at sea. She became immersed in the story, losing herself in the plot, as so many of us have done ever since.

I enjoyed the other short pieces in this book ‘“ her ‘˜memories’ of her family and her own life and beliefs. Some are about her family, some about her childhood and some about the house she loved, Menabilly.

2010

Finally in August 2010 I read Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, one of the best books I read that year. I was engrossed in it right from the start. It’s tense, taut and utterly enthralling. Moving at a fast pace the book follows the events during the thirteen hours from 05:36 when Rachel, a young American girl is running for her life up the steep slope of Lion’s Head in Capetown.

The body of another American girl is found outside the Lutheran church in Long Street and an hour or so later Alexandra Barnard, a former singing star and an alcoholic, wakes from a drunken stupor to find the dead body of her husband, a record producer, lying on the floor opposite her and his pistol lying next to her.

Meyer is a fantastic story teller and creates such wonderful characters. DI Benny Griessel is mentoring two inexperienced detectives who are investigating these crimes. I grew very fond of Benny, who is also an alcoholic and struggling to keep his marriage together.  The book also reflects the racial tension in the ‘˜new South Africa’ with its mix of white, coloured and black South Africans. There is a strong sense of location, not just from the cultural aspect but also geographical.

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

When I finished reading The Rendezvous and Other Stories I had absolutely no hesitation in giving it 5 stars – I loved it. This is most unusual for me as generally I’m not too keen on short stories because they often leave me feeling dissatisfied, thinking they are lacking in substance or characterisation. Not so with this book, even though some of the endings were predictable and some of the stories are very short I think they all worked well!

Daphne du Maurier wrote some of these stories before she wrote her first novel (The Loving Spirit, 1931), when she under 23, and the rest between 1937 and 1947, when she was a well established writer. The earlier stories are shorter than the later ones as they were written for magazines

There are 14 stories:

  • No Motive ~ this begins with the suicide of an apparently happy woman expecting her first child. Her husband desperate to discover what could have caused her to take her own life and that of their unborn child employs a private detective to investigate. What he discovers is just so sad and tragic.
  • Panic ~ This is one of the shorter stories about a casual love affair that ends in death and the panic that ensued.
  • The Supreme Artist ~ Another shorter story of an aging actor trying to fight off the years.
  • Adieu Sagesse ~ I loved this one about a hen-pecked husband who plans to escape his tedious life and have an adventure.
  • Fairy Tale ~ A gambler and his long-suffering wife face destitution – unless he wins the lottery!
  • The Rendezvous ~ Now this story really caught my imagination. It’s the story of an ageing writer, who meets a fan of his books whilst on a trip to Switzerland to lecture about his work. As in some of Du Maurier’s books this is about an unequal relationship and the exploitation of one of the partners. It is vividly written, the sense of disappointment, the misunderstandings and subsequent let down is brilliant.
  • La Sainte-Vierge ~ A very short and predictable story about a naive young wife.
  • Leading Lady ~ a beautiful actress manipulates the men around her.
  • Escort ~ Another of the really good stories, full of atmosphere set in set in World War II on board a merchant ship as it sails across the North Sea. Just what is the ship that offers to escort it as a submarine threatens  – and who is its captain?
  • The Lover ~ More sexual manipulation, this time by a young man.
  • The Closing Door ~ A young man is told of his terminal illness and the devastating effect it will have on his life.
  • Indiscretion ~ An amusing tale of what happens when you say something without knowing the consequences – a bit signalled but still enjoyable.
  • Angels and Archangels ~ A bitter and cynical look at religion and hypocrisy.
  • Split Second ~ A brilliant story to finish the book – about a woman who leaves her highly organised house for a walk and finds everything has changed when she returns.

This is one of a set of Du Maurier’s books that I bought at least seven years ago. It was well worth the wait! I still have one more of the set to read – I’ll Never Be Young Again, her second novel.  And there are more that I don’t own to enjoy in the future too.

Julius by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca was one of the first adult books that I remember reading and it has remained a favourite ever since I first read it. It led me on to read more of her books and in my teens and twenties I read and re-read Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, The Scapegoat, Mary Anne and The King’s General. They were the type of books that I loved.

Later on I discovered that she had written many more books and I’ve gradually been reading them, but, with perhaps the exception of My Cousin Rachel, they have not had the same magic quality that had kept me enthralled in the past. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I began reading Julius, her third book written when she was twenty-six. It may lack that magic quality of her later books, but it is still compelling and disturbing reading, rich in detail and characterisation.

Julius (originally published in 1933 as The Progress of Julius) is the life story of a ruthless man, driven by his lust for power, and his dedication to getting ‘something for nothing’. It’s a chilling tale about a man whose love for his daughter brings about his ruin.

But that is jumping ahead in the story. It begins with his birth in Paris in 1860. Julius Levy grows up in a peasant family in a village on the banks of the Seine and caught up in the Franco-Prussian War, he escapes to Algeria, where he learns to swindle and manipulate. He moves on to London, all the time scheming and making money, getting richer, regardless of who he hurt, or indeed of whose death he caused as he built up his empire of cafés and married Rachel, the daughter of a diamond merchant.

It’s a dramatic story covering the years 1860 -1932, as the old century ended and the new one began:

Now came the close of the century and the death of the Queen followed by peace in South Africa, and these things also served as a milestone in the life of Julius Lévy. They marked the end of an era  showing him the path to greater prosperity than he had as yet achieved. It was the beginning of a new age – the age of progress and speed and efficiency that he had long foreseen and the dawn of mechanism in all things, electricity, motor-cars and soon flying-machines in the air. The spirit abroad was one he understood, the demon of restlessness unsatisfied stretching hungry fingers to the skies in a superhuman effort to conquer insatiable hunger, a spirit of rapacity and greed and excitement burning like a living flame. (page 195)

Julius is half-Jewish and the book veers on anti-Semitism, indeed in later years Daphne du Maurier considered excising those elements from the novel. But that would have meant the novel would have lacked depth as it is his Jewishness that lifts him from being a complete monster. As a mixed-up, lonely child he found in the temple that he was among his own people, and the music took hold of his heart, giving him peace. It is his tragedy that he lost that peace and struggled throughout the rest of his life trying to re-capture it.

His love for his daughter, Gabriel overwhelms him, but it is a possessive, suffocating love that leads him to extremes. His inability to love without the need to possess and control is shown early on in the book when forced to leave home and unable to take his cat he ties a stone around her neck and throws her in the Seine, rather than leave her to fend for herself or for someone else to take care of her. That made me shudder, but it is little compared to how he treated people.

I’ve read that Du Maurier based the character of Julius on that of her father, Gerald, that the possessiveness, the emotional demands and the sentiments Julius expresses were Gerald’s, and the words Gabriel speaks were her own thoughts. (Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster page 84)

At times melodramatic, this is a powerful novel, of a deprived, starving child who sold rats on the streets of Paris, and who dragged himself up from poverty and obscurity to become a man of  wealth and status and a cold-blooded sadist and murderer. I wrote about the beginning  of the book in an earlier post, describing how as a baby he was reaching for things beyond his grasp. The book ends as it began with Julius still reaching for the clouds:

He cried to them and they did not come. They passed away from him as though they had never been, indifferent and aloof, like wreaths of smoke they were carried away by the wind, born of nothing, dissolving into nothing, a momentary breath that vanished in the air. (page 308)

First Chapter First Paragraph: Julius

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

One of the books I’m currently reading is Julius by Daphne du Maurier. The first chapter is called Childhood (1860-1872). It begins:

 His first instinct was to stretch out his hands to the sky. The white clouds seemed so near to him, surely they were easy to hold and to caress, strange-moving, things belonging to the wide blue space of heaven.

They floated just above his head, they almost brushed his eyelids as they passed, and he only had to grasp the long curling fringe of them with his fingers and they would belong to him instead, becoming part of him for ever. Something in him whispered that he must clutch at the clouds and bring them down from the sky. So he held out his hands to them and they did not come. He cried out to them and they did not come. They passed away from him as though they had never been, indifferent and aloof; like wreaths of white smoke they were carried away by the wind, born of nothing, dissolving into nothing, a momentary breath that vanished in the air.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I did and I’m finding it quite captivating. The ‘he’ in these first two paragraphs is Julius and right from his birth you can see him reaching out for things beyond his grasp.

Daphne du Maurier: Fact and Fiction

Recently I’ve had a bit of a run on books by and about Daphne du Maurier. First of all I read The Parasites, which reminded me that I’d had Justine Picardie’s novel, Daphne sitting on my bookshelves unread, so I immediately got it down. Then I just had to read My Cousin Rachel, a book I’ve had for years and never got round to reading before now. After that I read Daphne du Maurier: a Daughter’s Memoir by Flavia Leng, just because it was one of the books Justine Picardie consulted in writing her novel. I’ve previously read Margaret Forster’s biography Daphne du Maurier and Daphne du Maurier’s The ‘Rebecca’ Notebook and Other Memories, which is mainly autobiographical.

Daphne by Justine Picardie (2008) – synopsis (from the back cover):

It is 1957. As Daphne du Maurier wanders alone through her remote mansion on the Cornish coast, she is haunted by thoughts of her failing marriage and the legendary heroine of her most famous novel, Rebecca, who now seems close at hand. Seeking distraction, she becomes fascinated by Branwell, the reprobate brother of the Bronte sisters, and begins a correspondence with the enigmatic scholar Alex Symington in which truth and fiction combine. Meanwhile, in present day London, a lonely young woman struggles with her thesis on du Maurier and the Brontes and finds herself retreating from her distant husband into a fifty-year-old literary mystery.

My view: 4/5

This book merges fact and fiction so well that it’s hard to differentiate between the two. I much preferred the story of Daphne herself and her search for information about Branwell. I had to go back to Forster’s biography of Daphne to compare the accounts of her life, which matched up pretty well. I was less keen on the modern day story of a young woman, the second wife of an older man. It had too many obvious parallels with Rebecca for my liking. And if you haven’t read Rebecca, this book gives away the plot. There are also references to My Cousin Rachel, which I glossed over in case there were any spoilers there too (I don’t think there were). All in all, a very satisfying mystery about Daphne and the missing Bronte documents.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951) – synopsis (Amazon):

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow – Philip’s cousin Rachel – turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet …might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?

My view: 4/5

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, completely taken in by the characters and loving the setting in an old mansion in Cornwall. The story is narrated by Philip, so the other characters are seen through his eyes. The tension mounts as Philip becomes obsessed with Rachel and I was never quite sure what was real and what to believe. He is not a stable character and as Rachel’s own thoughts are not revealed it’s not clear if she can be believed either, whether she is sincere or evil and manipulative.

Daphne du Maurier: a Daughter’s Memoir (1994) – synopsis (from the back cover):

In this moving and revealing memoir, Flavia Leng paints a powerful portrait of her mother, Daphne du Maurier. She presents an account of an unusual and often lonely childhood spent in London and especially Cornwall, at her mother’s beloved home, Menabilly. Family friends included Nelson and Ellen Doubleday, Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward. However, at the centre of this story is Daphne du Maurier herself. The book reveals a writer with a deep attachment to Cornwall, where she put down her roots and found inspiration for her novels, and who spent much of her life as a recluse, withdrawn not only from the outside world but also from members of her own family. A picture emerges of a woman who lived in a world of her own creation that was beyond the comprehension of those around her.

My view: 3.5/5

In the epilogue Flavia Leng, Daphne du Maurier younger daughter, explained that she began to write this memoir of her childhood two years before her mother died in 1989 and it was never meant for publication – it was just for the family. And that to me epitomises this memoir – it’s an account of her childhood and of her family as seen through a child’s eyes. It seems a lonely childhood, despite being the middle child. As children Flavia and her older sister Tessa didn’t get on and both she and Tessa saw that their mother lavished more affection on her beloved son, Christopher who they called Kits. But a picture emerges of Daphne, who they called Bing, as a solitary person, closeted away with her typewriter or lost in her world of ‘never, never land’, peopled by the characters she invented, with little time for her children, who were looked after by Nanny and then ‘Tod’, their governess.

Like her mother Flavia has a great love of Cornwall which shines through the book – she was never happier than when alone in Menabilly and the surrounding woodlands. It’s a sad memoir ending with Flavia feeling she had no roots left after her parents died:

I have heard it said that a person only really grows up when both parents have gone; what I do know is that life will never be quite the same again. Cornwall no longer holds the enchantment it once did. Gone is the excitement of driving down those leafy, winding roads to the lovely old houses, my beloved Menabilly, and then later Kilmarth where Bing lived out her years.

The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier: a Book Review

Daphne Du Maurier has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read Rebecca as a young teenager. I’ve read quite a lot of her books, some more than once, but this is the first time I’ve read The Parasites.

This is different from the other books by Du Maurier that I’ve read. There’s no real mystery, no dramatic suspense, no need to hold your breath and wonder what comes next. In some ways it’s a family drama and in others it’s a psychological study. The characters, for the most part, are not likeable – they’re selfish and self-centred, the ‘dreadful Delaneys‘. They’re from the theatrical, artistic world and they mix with the rich and the upper classes. They are siblings, with famous parents – Pappy, a singer who is a  larger-than life character and Mama who is a dancer. Between them they have three children – Maria, who is Pappy’s daughter; Niall, who is Mama’s son; and Celia who is their daughter.

At the beginning of this book Charles, Maria’s husband accuses her and her stepbrother, Niall and half-sister Celia of being parasites:

… that’s what you are, the three of you. Parasites. The whole bunch. You always have been and you always will be. Nothing can change you. You are doubly, triply parasitic; first, because you’ve traded ever since childhood on that seed of talent you had the luck to inherit from your fantastic forbears; secondly, because you’ve none of you done a stroke of ordinary honest work in your lives, but batten upon us, the fool public who allow you to exist; and thirdly, because you prey upon each other, the three of you, living in a world of fantasy which you have created for yourselves and which bears no relation to anything in heaven or on earth. (page 5)

The narration alternates between the past and the present and between the first person narrator and third person description, which I found rather odd at first. The narrator could be any one of the three – Maria, Niall or Celia – or is it Daphne Du Maurier herself? I read Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne a while ago and checked what she had to say about The Parasites. I wasn’t surprised to find out that this book is semi-autobiographical. Daphne had written to a friend in 1957 explaining that these characters were her ‘three inner selves’ and Margaret Forster considers that Pappy was modelled on Gerald, Daphne’s father.

It’s the relationships between the three siblings that forms the core of The Parasites. After Charles’s outburst the three of them discuss what he meant and go back through their lives. There are poignant moments as they remember the joys and difficulties of growing up and that strange realisation that you’re no longer a child:

Grown-up people … How suddenly would it happen, the final plunge into their world? Did it really come overnight, as Pappy said, between sleeping and waking? A day would come, a day like any other day, and looking over your shoulder you would see the shadow of the child that was, receding; and there would be no going back, no possibility of recapturing the shadow. You had to go on; you had to step forward into the future, however much you dreaded the thought, however much you were afraid. (page 61)

Like all of Du Maurier’s books I could visualise the scenes, almost as though I was really there. I may not have liked the characters but they are convincing –  I wouldn’t want to have to spend much time with any of them. But it’s not all intense. There is also humour to balance the drama, such as the hilarious scene where the Delaneys visit the Wyndham family soon after Maria has married Charles.

Even though this does not rank with my favourites of Daphne’s books I did enjoy it and it spurred me on to read My Cousin Rachel, which I’ve been meaning to read for years, and Justine Picardie’s novel, Daphne – more about both books another time.

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Virago Press Ltd; New edition edition (5 May 2005)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1844080722
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844080724
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating: 3.5/5