Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Favorite Stories: Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

(On this eve of The Daphne du Maurier International Centenary Conference, it seems an appropriate time to discuss another of my favorite horror short stories.)

I was introduced to the works of Daphne du Maurier at my aunt's house on a visit. She had a book club edition of The Scapegoat in which a man becomes the dupe of his identical twin.

I knew nothing of Rebecca at that point nor of the author's short stories including "The Birds" which have an even darker tone than her novel-length thrillers which frequently attracted Alfred Hitchcock.

"Don't Look Now" is of course the basis for an intriguing, eerie thriller directed by a different auteur, Nicholas Roeg, most notorious for its extended, steamy love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.

That scene stems from a single sentence in the source material, but it's generally a faithful adaptation of du Maurier's short story of a couple vacationing in Venice and vicinity. (In the film it's a working vacation as the husband works on a church restoration project. Incidentally there's word that a remake is coming, but why?)

In the story it's simply a holiday and a somber one as the couple copes with the death of a daughter. One son remains in boarding school, but the loss of their little girl has been devastating to the wife, Laura. The "girl meant everything," notes John, the husband.

The story opens with the couple making jokes about elderly twin sisters at a nearby restaurant table, but Laura's encounter with one of the twins who is blind and claims to be psychic sends their holiday on a strange, eerie course.

It is a story of questions. Is the blind twin really seeing the spirit-world version of the lost daughter as she claims? Or is she a con artist?

John is skeptical, but as they wander old world streets, they catch site of a child who could be a ghostly version of their daughter.

Everything is interrupted by word that their son is in need of appendicitis surgery. They decide Laura will go home immediately, and John will follow with their car.

But as he returns to their hotel, John sees Laura on a passing boat with the twins and begins a frantic search to find hear amid rumors that a "maniac" is prowling the city.

The ending comes with a pair of twists, one odd and bizarre, and evokes an eerie, unsettling chill.

I like the tale because it's like many of those pieces that's more than it seems at a glance. It offers strong mood and perplexes. It's quiet horror to be sure, one of those tales that keeps you contemplating long after you've finished it.

(Pictured is the short story collection I own, which includes both "Don't Look Now" and "The Birds.")


Charles Gramlich said...

I did not know about this story, or collection. I'll have to try and pick it up. "The Birds" was a great story. I have it in an anthology. "Rebecca" is another of those books that I should have read but haven't. Like the stuff we were talking about here once before.

RK Sterling said...

The only one I've read was "Rebecca" and that was years ago. This sounds interesting. Will have to find that movie too. I like Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Thanks for sharing.

Sidney said...

Yeah, I need to do more of those posts on what I haven't read, Charles. I'm sure there are more.

Kate, you know Julie Christie is in a new movie about a woman with Alzheimer's. I've heard some interviews about it.

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