The Reading List: Don’t Look Now

Don’t Look Now: Selected Short Stories by Daphne Du Maurier
Rating: Recommended
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If you think you know Daphne Du Maurier and haven’t read her short fiction, you’re in for a surprise. Outside of Rebecca, made into a creepy but strangely denatured film by Hitchcock (Hitchcock replaced premeditated murder with an unfortunate accident), I never could get excited about her novels.

One of the results of a turbulent, doomed relationship was my discovery of these amazing short stories on the girl’s bookshelf. I remember sitting on my cheap couch in my crummy post-student apartment and reading a collection of Du Maurier’s stories in a single sitting. I got to bed very late, and had uncomfortable dreams. These stories are hard to classify: they have elements of horror, supernatural, and mystery without truly being any of the above. And the short story format seems to suit Du Maurier, making her prose more spare and adding a tautness to her storytelling.

Finding these stories in print has, up to now, been a challenge. I found my copies in a Dublin bookstore: Ireland seems to keep interesting books in print longer than the US does. Different collections have come in and out of print since then. This collection is just a sampling of  a larger body of short stories, and I hope for your sake that they put out further volumes. But get this one now, while you can.

As a sampling, this is an outstanding selection of creepy, evocative stories. It starts off with two stories made into successful movies. Don’t Look Now, a tale of loss, sexual tension, and a possible spectre in a red coat. Nicholas Roeg made this into a great film, though I much prefer the story (full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Roeg’s films in the slightest). The Birds was Hitchcock’s second adaptation, though it borrows the set up and little else from the story. As long as you don’t come in expecting the characters from the film, you’ll find this story is the equal of that film.

Kiss Me Again, Stranger was the story that gave me uncomfortable dreams after my first reading. Du Maurier shows rare expertise in taking a story of a working man’s meeting with an intriguing girl from the mundane to the unsettling. The tension of the protagonist’s wanting this girl while fighting some dark suspicions is gripping. I’ve never looked at pretty strangers in the same way again. And once I quickly ended a date in which the girl had a similar attraction and similar “wrongness” about her.

There isn’t a bad story here, and the collection ends with the extremely satisfying Monte Verita. Though I was glad to see it included, I was surprised to see it chosen over some more obvious possibilities. Obviously, the anthologist was as taken by its mysterious and uneasy tale of a mountain climber’s disappearance and the secrets behind it.

For you who haven’t read any of these short stories, I regret that The Old Man is not included. I’ll never forget the whiplash twist of that story. I wish I could reread it without knowing what comes in the final paragraph. If you enjoy these stories, hope for another volume, or seek out an anthology containing the story (there are a few).