This week is Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week hosted by HeavenAli with Liz @Adventures in Reading assisting in the collation of links. In recent years I have worked my way through DDM’s short story collections, often only 2-3 stories at a time. For the 2023 DDM Reading Week I have started on the stories in Don’t Look Now: Short Stories (1971). It has five rather longish short stories but two was all I can manage this year – Don’t Look Now and Not After Midnight. I will save the next three titles for 2024. How’s that for planning ahead!
Don’t Look Now and Not After Midnight share several themes in common – an ill-fated excursion to a foreign country, drunkeness, a strange couple that disturb the peace of the holiday-maker/s, mysterious sightings, misperceptions, hauntings and obsessions. No romance in sight!
Whoever decided to call DDM a romance writer obviously didn’t read her short stories.
Wikipedia more accurately describes her writing as “moody and resonant with overtones of the paranormal“. The DDM website expands on this by saying “she wrote dark, often gothic and edgy novels and short stories, with unexpected twists or suspenseful endings“. The British Library went with “haunting and atmospheric“, while the BBC describes her writing as being “her sexually charged take on the Gothic“.
Don’t Look Now is now the titular story for this collection, although the first edition was called Not After Midnight and Other Stories. I suspect the 1973 movie starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland may have had something to do with which story got head billing after that. I would have loved to have seen the movie of Don’t Look Now. I mean – just look at them! How adorable are all those 70’s curls?
‘Don’t look now,’ John said to his wife, ‘but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.’
Laura, quick on cue, made an elaborate pretence of yawning, then titled her head as though searching the skies for a non-existent aeroplane.
From the beginning we know that John and Laura are an unhappy couple. Their daughter had died recently of meningitis and they were holidaying in Venice in an attempt to heal their wounds (their son, Johnnie obviously didn’t need such solace as he was left behind at his preparatory school). The opening scene sees John reintroducing a game they used to play together making ‘ridiculous fantasies about people at other tables.’ For the first time in ages, they laugh together.
But then Laura has a conversation in the bathroom with one of the old girls. It turns out they are sisters; the one left sitting at the table is blind, but psychic. She has ‘seen’ their daughter happily sitting between them. Instead of upseting Laura this surprising news comforts her. It is John who slowly begins to unravel, especially when they keep running into the old girls around the streets of Venice. They then tell him that he also has the sight and that he should leave Venice immediately.
DDM builds the tension beautifully.
We have learnt not to trust what John sees, or thinks he sees, but he continues on, oblivious to the warning signs. He blunders from one mishap, one misconception to the next. It can only end one way, but how will DDM pull it off?
Not After Midnight is the second story in the collection.
I am a schoolmaster by profession. Or was. I handed in my resignation to the Head before the end of the summer term in order to forestall the inevitable dismissal. The reason I gave was true enough – ill-health, caused by a wretched bug picked up on holiday in Crete, which might necessitate a stay in hospital of several weeks, various injections, etc. I did not specify the nature of the bug. He knew, though, and so did the rest of the staff. And the boys. My complaint is universal, and has been so through the ages, an excuse for jest and hilarious laughter from earliest times…
Holidaying in Crete at a hotel overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello, 49 year old Timothy Grey finds himself allocated to a room without a view. Upon realising that there is a terraced section yet to be open for the season, he insists that he be given one of those rooms instead. He is happy to pay the extra to get the view that will enhance his painting. The room he picks was previously rented out to a man who had drowned whilst swimming after dinner.
Also staying at the hotel is an obnoxious American couple, the Stolls. At least he is obnoxious – a loud, boorish drunk. Maud appears to be ever patient, ever understanding and ever submissive. Grey can see the lights of their chalet across the cove. He also sees them leave every morning from the dock to go fishing.
Once he has painted enough views of the cove to satisfying his artistic urges, Grey hires a car to travel further afield. Spying a picturesque scene with a ‘ruined church in the foreground, the abandoned windmills beyond, the salt-flats on the left, and blue water rippling to the shore of the isthmus on my right‘ he decides to set up his easel. In the distance, he sees a boat at anchor – it is the Stolls. Mrs Stoll is diving – exploring or searching for antiquities? It doesn’t take long for Grey’s imagination to run away with him.
I finished this story still wondering what his complaint was though? Why was Grey unwell? Was it the sight of a dead body? The home-made brew he drank? Is his illness alcoholism, or in the parlance of the day, homosexualism? I guess that’s the delight of reading Daphne Du Maurier, she likes to leave you up in the air, surrounded by mystery and possibility.
A second read through made me feel more confident that alcohol was the problem. Dionysus gets a number of mentions and the ancient drinking pot given to Grey by the Stolls, a rhyton, appears to shapeshift in the final page, taking on the image of our narrator. Although how one can become an alcoholic from one home-brew I do not know!
The denouement is far more open-ended than Don’t Look Now making it less satisfying and ultimately lacking in the believability factor. A psychologically scarred Grey with PTSD and nightmares would have been more plausible.
For DDM the imagination is both powerful and dangerous. In the end, both John and Grey are victims of too much imagination.
- Don’t Look Now – 1 May 2023
- Not After Midnight – 4-6 May 2023
My DDM Reads So Far:
- Don’t Look Now: Short Stories | part one
- The Birds: Short Stories | part one | part two
- Jamaica Inn
- My Cousin Rachel
- Rebecca (read pre-blog)
- Mary-Anne (read pre-blog)
Title: Don't Look Now : Short Stories Author: Daphne Du Maurier Cover Design: 'Gypsy' by Neisha Crosland ISBN: 9780349006604 Imprint: Virago Modern Classics Published: 24 November 2015 (originally published 1971 as Not After Midnight and Other Stories) Format: Hardback Pages: 276 Dates Read: 1 May 2023 - 6 May 2023 Origin: 2023
|This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.|
13 thoughts on “Don’t Look Now | Daphne Du Maurier #UKshortstories”
She’s so good at creating a sense of ambiguity and dislocation. I’ve been so impressed with her stories.
Thanks Cathy. I loved reading your recent review of The Birds and other stories – it reminded me that reading short stories a few at a time helps them stay in my memory better.
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I read this a long time ago, but I have to confess that the only synopsis that rang any bells was “Don’t Look Now,” and I’m not sure if I’m thinking of the story or the movie made from it.
Short stories I read a long time ago have no chance of staying with me! I’d love to see the movie though.
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I loved Don’t Look Now, but remember feeling confused by the ending of Not After Midnight. This is a great collection overall, though – the third story, A Borderline Case, is my favourite.
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Thanks Helen – something to look forward to next year 🙂
I assumed from the intro to the teacher story he had VD (as we used to say) but you don’t indicate that he actually had any opportunity to get one.
Psychic stories. Not my thing.
My first thought was AIDS, but this was 1971, not 1981.
The psychic/paranormal stuff in DDM’s books is very lite, just a hint to match the creepy, gothic twist she loved to play with too.
Great novellas, are they not? I recently read these two, plus three more, and really loved them. You mention paranormal, and I guess this is a good description of her novellas. They are different from her novels, and I think that just shows what a good writer she is. I am beginning to love her books.
oh I must read Not After Midnight, I read Don’t Look Now and watched the film last year and thought they were both fantastic!
Okay, I really must watch the movie. The little snip I saw looked marvellous – dated but marvellous.
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It’s well worth watching. . .
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