Even the moonlight could not give it beauty

the-birds-and-other-storiesThe Birds and other stories
by Daphne du Maurier

This is an excellent collection of short stories. The tales are all weird, spooky, dark with flashes of humour.

The title story is the one that Hitchcock adapted into the film of the same name, but there is little resemblance between book and film. Both are excellent but I was surprised by quite how different they are. Du Maurier’s story centres on farm labourer Nat who lives on the Cornwall coast with his wife and two children. There’s no glamorous California or pet shop but there is the added peril of children being in danger. The birds on the attack are truly terrifying.

However, my favourite story was “The apple tree”, in which a widow becomes convinced that a sick old tree is taunting him with the spirit of his dead wife. It sounds ridiculous but is in fact a brilliant story that includes many of the same themes as Rebecca.

“The moon shone full upon the little apple tree, the young one. There was a radiance about it in this light that gave it a fairy-tale quality. Small and lithe and slim, the young tree might have been a dancer, her arms upheld, poised ready on her toes for flight. Such a careless happy grace about it. Brave young tree. Away to the left stood the other one, half of it in shadow still. Even the moonlight could not give it beauty. What in heaven’s name was wrong with the thing that it had to stand there, humped and stooping, instead of looking upwards to the light? It marred the still quiet night, it spoilt the setting.”

There’s also the excellent story “The little photographer” about a rich woman holidaying at the seaside with her children who decides to indulge in an affair because all her friends are doing it so why not? Du Maurier’s dark imagination comes up with some reasons not to! This felt to me like it would make an excellent film and I’m surprised it’s not been done.

“A group of young people, bare and bronzed, the salt from the sea scarce dried upon their bodies, came running up from the sands…The Marquise looked down on them with disdain, yet merged with her disdain was a kind of envy. They were free to come and go, to climb into a car, to move onward to some other place. They lived in a state of blank, ferocious gaiety…They paired off of course, they pawed at each other, forming into couples. But…their gaiety held no mystery. In their open lives there could be no moment of suspense. No-one waited, in secret, behind a half-closed door.”

The only story I didn’t enjoy was one that relies on a twist in the tale. I won’t name it here so you won’t know in advance which it is, but I felt that the twist was a cheap trick that didn’t suit Du Maurier’s writing style and she could have pulled off a much better version of the story without it. (Thinking about it, you could argue that two of the stories have twist endings but one of them felt earned, with plenty of clues laid for the reader, while the other felt, well, unearned. If you’ve read this collection I’d love to know whether you agree.)

First published as The Apple Tree in 1952 by Victor Gollancz.

Source: Present from my dad.