I love Du Maurier’s books and her short stories are much better than others I’ve read. My copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier is a Virago Modern Classic. The other short stories in this collection are Not After Midnight, A Border-Line Case, The Way of the Cross and The Breakthrough, making this a collection of stories of suspense, mystery and slow, creeping horror.
I read the first story Don’t Look Now (52 pages) a few years ago. It’s a supernatural tale about a couple, John and Laura who have come to Venice to recover after their young daughter’s death. They encounter two old women who claim to have second sight and find themselves caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events, involving hallucinations, mistaken identity and a murderer.
I read the other four stories this month. They explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires. In Not After Midnight (48 pages) a lonely teacher, Timothy Grey, investigates a mysterious American couple, the Stolls, whilst on holiday on the Greek island of Crete. The couple invite him to visit their chalet, with the warning ‘not before midnight’. What he discovers involves a jar or rhyton, shaped into the form of a head resembling Stoll, with dancing satyrs. The story gradually became more and more ambiguous and mysterious – I wondered just what was real and what was imaginary.
In A Border-Line Case (65 pages) a young woman confronts her father’s past after he died. She wants to know more about his early life. He was ex-British Army and she goes to Ireland to search for the man who used to be his friend. When she finds him, she falls in love with him and then discovers something that shocks her completely. This is very intense story.
In The Way of the Cross ( 67 pages) there’s a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem. This is a strange story about seven people from a cruise ship as they follow the Via Dolorosa and each experience their own humiliation, each one meeting the fate they most dread.
The Breakthrough (43 pages) is the oddest and most menacing story of this collection. It is set on the windswept coast of rural Suffolk in an isolated laboratory. It’s about a scientist, experimenting with the idea that when people die there is an untapped source of energy, as their ‘soul’, for want of a better word, leaves their body. He attempts to harness the power of the mind to the most chilling effect, by releasing this energy from a young man, dying of leukaemia, into the mind of a child of ‘sub-standard intelligence’.
I enjoyed these stories – or are they novellas? The longer length means these stories have more depth, characterisation and substance than the shorter stories. I find them more satisfying – and the ambiguity and supernatural elements in these makes them especially thought-provoking. Some are better than others and the one I enjoyed the most is Not After Midnight.