On December the third the wind changed overnight and it was winter.
Time is of the essence right now. Lots of big reading plans; not much blogging time. But I’m rather smitten with Daphne du Maurier’s work and I look forward to Ali’s special reading week each year to celebrate their shared birthdays. The only conceivable way to join in this year was with a short story – The Birds to be exact.
An initial search revealed that there has been a short story versus novelette controversy surrounding The Birds for a while.
Apparently (I did not count them myself) the word count is closer to novelette length, but the open ending is more typical of a short story. Novelettes are known for their concise, complete nature and tight focus. Like short stories they tend to have a limited cast of characters, simple plots with very few twists. Novelettes are often whimsical or romantic in tone (according to wikidictionary) but they have a clear structure, which can include some world building, character development and plotting.
The Birds is not a complete story. The ending is left deliciously open. We do not know what happened to the rest of the world thanks to the loss of all radio contact, even the foreign services, and we are left to wonder how Nat and his family will ultimately fare. The next attack by the birds is imminent and we are left with the image of Nat smoking his last cigarette.
The second thing required when reading The Birds is to forget the movie. You can keep the creepy, scary images of the birds slowly amassing on the wires and rooftops if you like, but forget the plot and characters. The book is completely different.
But it was not the sea that held his eyes. The gulls had risen. They were circling, hundreds of them, thousands of them, lifting their wings against the wind. It was the gulls that made the darkening of the sky. And they were silent. They made not a sound. They just went on soaring and circling, rising, falling, trying their strength against the wind.
Nat is a rather solitary but caring English farmer. The war is over, but still fresh in everyone’s minds. He lives with his wife and two young children in a cottage near the big farm, where he works three days a week on a war-time disability pension. Nat notices the birds arriving in large numbers and after the shock of the first attack, realises he needs to prepare better. No-one else pays him any heed as he boards up all the windows on his cottage and blocks all the chimneys except for the kitchen one.
The second attack is savage and violent.
The birds break through the upstairs bedroom windows. Nat realises though, that the attacks are affected by the tides. He plans to go for supplies and fix the damage during the next tidal lull.
The next lull reveals the extent and horror of the local devastation. The silent radio suggests that the problem is not only local but nationwide and even possibly world-wide.
Nat doggedly stocks up on supplies, then repairs and reinforces all the windows and chimneys, before bunkering in the kitchen with his family, to wait out the next attack.
They still circled overhead….It was as though they waited upon some signal. As though some decision had yet to be given. The order was not clear.
An eerie, end-of-the-world feeling pervades the story. References to the war and air raids gives us a sense of how dangerous and precarious Nat and his family feel. The difference this time being how alone they are with the avian onslaught. There is no community huddle in the tube or basements. This time it is each family on their own and there is no help in sight.
A worthwhile read, if only to see where Hitchcock got his movie inspiration.
My DDM Reads So Far:
- Cover design ‘Boomerang’ by Neisha Crosland
- Initially published in a collection called The Apple Tree (which is the name of the third story in the collection)
- The Birds was made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and Jessica Tandy in 1963
- That same year The Apple Tree was reprinted as The Birds and Other Stories.
Nat listened to the tearing sound of splintering wood, and wondered how many million years of memory were stored in those little brains, behind the stabbing beaks, the piercing eyes, now giving them the instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines.
- The birds!
Favourite or Forget:
- It’s difficult to remove the movie images and storyline from my mind, but Nat’s boy scout/be prepared attitude will stick with me.
Book: The Birds and Other Stories Author: Daphne du Maurier ISBN: 9780349006666 Publisher: Virago Modern Classics Series: Virago Designer Collection Date: 2004 (originally published 1952) Format: Hardback