This is in essence a haunting ghost story which looks at the close affinity of a loving couple and the emotional reactions of losing a child.
just another day at the beach for the chilly and not particularly empathetic Ms. du Maurier, who is all too familiar with humanity's constant ability to fool itself. Her prose is elegant; her characters are unpleasant but interesting; her themes are darkly fascinating; her disinterest in spelling things out and thus keeping her stories ambiguous is admirable. The most famous of the collection, its title story "Don't Look Now" - about an ill-fated holiday in Venice - was certainly disturbing and memorable. "The Breakthrough" could have been a mournful exploration of things spiritual and material, but du Maurier's cold eye made the story feel more like a cautionary tale both desolate and eerie. But du Maurier makes it clear that a Reverend should not see himself as above his flock, even if he is in charge of a flock of assholes.
I'd recommend this whole collection on those stories alone.
The reason why I focus on this one is that I can be a little more lenient with my no spoilers since I am sure everything has either heard or seen the film plus I had a rather strange experience this morning which brought the story in to focus. I long thought that the scene in the film with the crows in the play ground was a little contrived (stay with me you will get there) as it was well know that Hitchcock would not mind bending a few rules if it meant a better cinematic experience.
Both books are fine, mind you, but if you are participating in a group discussion and the stories you are reading aren't the same as what everyone else is reading, you will likely feel left out in the cold. That said, this is a fine collection of stories by an exceptional author.
Saying this, I dont even know, hardly knowing the first thing at all about du Maurier, whether these five stories were originally included in one collection or whether their joint appearance in one volume is simply due to a publishers choice. An English couple, John and Laura, lost their little daughter due to meningitis and are now spending a holiday in Venice, in the hopes of coming to terms with the death of their child. The appearance of two old Scottish ladies, however, makes them face their recent loss again because the two women claim that they can see the spirit of their dead child sitting next to them. Still, it is not easy to live up to this determination, and so the way he sees Venice is often redolent of reminiscences of death, as for example when in the evening, apart from the hustle and bustle of tourist life, the long narrow boats moored to the slippery steps of cellar entrances looked like coffins. (****) The weakest story in this collection is entitled A Border-Line Case and it is about a 19-year old actress whose father recently died. (*) Rather more clever and entertaining is the fourth story, The Way of the Cross, where we have a group of English tourists they might think of themselves as pilgrims of some sorts in Jerusalem, trying to acquire a feeling how Jesus might have gone through his last hours before the crucifixion. This latter man, by the name of MacLean, lost his wife years ago, and as our narrator finds out he is now working on a way of preserving the basic vital energy he is careful to make it clear that he does not think of it in terms of a soul that exudes the body in the moment of death and usually gets lost in the air. While this rather freakish pipe-dream may be the result of MacLeans failure to come to terms with the loss of his wife in a way, in yet another way it shows capitalism and utilitarianism at their worst: Not content to exploit human energy and creativity while humans are alive, or to regard the dead body as a depot for human spare parts, the idea now lies in turning the divine spark itself into disposable energy.
In many ways the life of Daphne du Maurier resembles a fairy tale. 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. 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. In Rebecca, on the other hand, du Maurier fuses psychological realism with a sophisticated version of the Cinderella story.