Originally published: 1952 (This edition 2004)
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Published by: Virago Modern Classics
Genre: Short stories
Length: 256 pages
Reading dates: 24-28 March 2023
Having previously followed the Chichester Libraries Reading Challenge, this year the Shoreham by Sea book club is borrowing ideas from a few different challenges for our themes! For March the theme was short stories. We always make suggestions and then vote and The Birds by Daphne du Maurier was chosen which was my choice as it has been on my shelf unread for 5 years!
A classic of alienation and horror, ‘The Birds’ was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man’s sense of dominance over the natural world.
The mountain paradise of ‘Monte Verità’ promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject’s life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three’s a crowd . . .
I used to love The Birds movie from Alfred Hitchcock which I watched as a teenager which still to this day makes me wary of walking past flocks of birds! So I was keen to read the original story on which it is based. I think if anything this version is more chilling than the movie. In du Maurier’s version, the scene is Cornwall and it is farm hand Nat who first realises the danger. No one really takes him seriously, even when the birds strange behaviour is featured on the news, spreading all over the country. He decides to take action and barricade the house an in doing so saves the lives of his family.
The other stories include one about a mountain that women especially are drawn to and who are never seen again, a widower whose apple tree seems to be taking on characteristics of his dead wife, a woman who while on holiday has an affair with a photographer, a man who falls for an usherette who wants to hang out in cemeteries and a man who watches a family who seem to be abusive to their son.
For a relatively short book, it took me a while to read and I think that after initially loving The Birds, the second story Monte Verità didn’t capture my attention and I found it a struggle. For short stories, I think some were a bit long at over 60 pages, and I think some could have been shorter. I enjoyed all the stories except for Mount Verità though but they weren’t as spooky as I was hoping for. What I did find interesting was how all but one of the stories was written from a male point of view and I have since read a little more about du Maurier who was rumoured to feel more male than female.
I think the book group as a whole scored it highly and I wish I’d been able to attend the meeting as I think my opinion of the book would of changed for the better. I’m glad I read it though but it wasn’t my favourite du Maurier.
About the author:
If Daphne du Maurier had written only Rebecca, she would still be one of the great shapers of popular culture and the modern imagination. Few writers have created more magical and mysterious places than Jamaica Inn and Manderley, buildings invested with a rich character that gives them a memorable life of their own.
In many ways the life of Daphne du Maurier resembles a fairy tale. Born into a family with a rich artistic and historical background, the daughter of a famous actor-manager, she was indulged as a child and grew up enjoying enormous freedom from financial and parental restraint. She spent her youth sailing boats, travelling on the Continent with friends, and writing stories. A prestigious publishing house accepted her first novel when she was in her early twenties, and its publication brought her not only fame but the attentions of a handsome soldier, Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Frederick Browning, whom she married.
Her subsequent novels became bestsellers, earning her enormous wealth and fame. While Alfred Hitchcock’s film based upon her novel proceeded to make her one of the best-known authors in the world, she enjoyed the life of a fairy princess in a mansion in Cornwall called Menabilly, which served as the model for Manderley in Rebecca.
Daphne du Maurier was obsessed with the past. She intensively researched the lives of Francis and Anthony Bacon, the history of Cornwall, the Regency period, and nineteenth-century France and England. Above all, however, she was obsessed with her own family history, which she chronicled in Gerald: A Portrait, a biography of her father; The du Mauriers, a study of her family which focused on her grandfather, George du Maurier, the novelist and illustrator for Punch; The Glassblowers, a novel based upon the lives of her du Maurier ancestors; and Growing Pains, an autobiography that ignores nearly 50 years of her life in favour of the joyful and more romantic period of her youth. Daphne du Maurier can best be understood in terms of her remarkable and paradoxical family, the ghosts which haunted her life and fiction.