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The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
Original title: The Apple Tree

Pan Books 1977 (1952)
Mass Market Paperback
237 pages
Short Stories; Speculative Fiction

Ah how I love du Maurier! Her mind must have been a weird and wonderful place, and I love the window her stories give into it. The stories in this collection are:
“The Birds” (pp. 7-43)
“Monte Verita” (pp. 44-113)
“The Apple Tree” (pp. 114-157)
“The Little Photographer” (pp. 158-201)
“Kiss Me Again, Stranger” (pp. 202-226)
“The Old Man” (pp. 227-237)

I’ll go through each of these separately, because they deserve it.

I have never seen Hitchcock’s The Birds, but I’ve seen the famous beach scene and Big Train’s spoof (The Working Class – hilarious; “Look straight ahead and whatever you do, just don’t give them any money” ! Oh it cracks me up every time!). The short story is different from the film, as far as I can gather, and a perfectly crafted apocalyptic short story. There was a great sense of tension, fear and even terror; yet at the same time I felt sorry for the birds. Must be my modern, animal-loving sensibilities 😉 Regardless, it was quite chilling and the abrupt, open ending only makes it more so.

“Monte Verita” was the longest story, and very involved. The friendship between two men who enjoy mountain climbing changes when one of them, Victor, marries a beautiful and enigmatic woman, Anna. When Victor takes Anna hiking through wild mountains somewhere in Europe, they encounter a strange stone fortress and a village of terrified peasants – and Anna disappears behind the walls, never to be seen again. It’s very Picnic at Hanging Rock, though of course it predates that story. There’s such a welling of joy and sadness in the truth of Monte Verita; I loved the conflicting emotions it stirred – loved that it could stir such extremes in feeling, and contradictory feeling at that.

“The Apple Tree” is a tightly-structured story about a man now retired whose hard-working and resentful wife dies from illness; when he realises that a sickly, bent old apple tree strongly resembles his deceased wife, he becomes increasingly haunted by her presence, as if she were still determined to make him feel wretched from the grave. And no matter what he does to conquer this spectre, to reclaim his life and enjoy his retirement (and widowhood – she was a horrible person really), the apple tree will be victorious.

The ending was so sad, and yet there was no other way for it to end. It was a clever little story, very vivid and with superb atmosphere.

The fourth story, “The Little Photographer”, is rather different. In it, a bored Marquise holidays with her two young children on the French Riveria. She becomes taken with a photographer whom she hires to photograph her and her children; heady with the way he looks at her and the power she has over him, she falls into an adulterous secret affair – until he expresses his determination to follow her back to Paris and continue the affair there, leading her to an unplanned and desperate measure to be rid of him that she can never escape from. It’s a fascinating story of a psyche, of what makes us do certain things and how the consequences can affect ours lives forever. The Marquise manages to come across as a sympathetic woman despite her actions, and this makes the writing even more exquisite, that du Maurier can achieve that.

“Kiss Me Again, Stranger” leads on quite well from the previous story, but is quite different again. In it the narrator, a man who works as a mechanic, reminisces about the young woman he met once, who he thought he loved after just one meeting, and who devastated him. It’s a bittersweet story, one that resonates so strongly with this quiet man’s feelings and hopes and broken dreams, that it’s stunning juxtaposition against mystery and murder.

The final story, “The Old Man”, completely fooled me. I was totally wrapped up in the story, the description of the old man, his wife and their children, fishing during the day, living simply, and then the problem with his son, that I didn’t see the ending coming at all. I mean, the ending yet, but not the twist. It made me laugh out loud, I was so delighted!

Every single story in this collection is a superb example of storytelling at its best, exquisitely told, cleverly crafted and structured, stories that make you think and wonder and feel, stories that mix dread and tension and fear with sorrow, love and hope. I can’t think of a writer as truly skilled as du Maurier – or at least, not one where it feels like they speak directly to me, with such intensity and skill and create such vivid images in my mind, images that resonate long after I’ve finished reading. If you haven’t read this short story collection, I highly recommend it, especially if you love stories that are a bit dark, unusual, thought-provoking and even unsettling.

Read for the Daphne du Maurier Challenge.

16 comments to Review: The Birds and Other Stories

  • I love all of the collections of Du Maurier stories that are out there! I also just finished reading a beautifully illustrated copy of her stories that were released to celebrate her 80th birthday for the Daphne du Marier Challenge as well (I love this challenge!!) — and The Apple Tree was one of my favorites, too — so much so that I wrote a separate review of it! Wasn’t it terribly sad in the end?

    My other favorite from the collection that I had was “Don’t Look Now.” You really must read this one! This one I found to be very creepy, and I mentioned in my review that I felt that it was one that would make *the* perfect Tim Burton film!

    “The Old Man” sounds absolutely wonderful! I’ll need to pick this one up!

    I’ve posted two reviews on my blog, do let me know what you think! I’d send you the collection of stories with illustrations that I have, but I checked this one out from the library and unfortunately, I actually have to give it back!! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Coffee and a Book Chick, Thanks for posting about that book, I’d love to get my hands on a copy! It’ll be a treat 😀

    I’ll have to check what stories are in The Blue Lenses; I might have “Don’t Look Now” and not realise it.

    [Reply]

  • Her short stories are amazing. There are a few in this collection I still haven’t read. That makes me happy! I have a few to look forward to.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Chrisbookarama, Do they mix up her short stories often, I wonder? I was just wondering how many collections there are, and why people have read some but not all… I didn’t think they’d move the stories around so much!

    [Reply]

  • Just wanted to let you know that I’m passing you a blogging award! I know you already have it, but nevertheless. If you’re interested, you can claim it over here: http://christina-reads.livejournal.com/116311.html.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Christina, Thanks Christina!

    I can’t believe you loathe tomatoes! I can understand my own bean phobia, but tomatoes? Aw, that must really rule out a lot of great dishes!

    [Reply]

  • Em

    I want to read her short stories and you make them sound really tempting!

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Em, Good! That was my aim 😀

    [Reply]

  • Urgh, I think I’m reverting to my lurker status. I read this the other day and forgot to comment. 🙁

    I really need to read Du Maurier. I have a feeling that I’d love her, but just haven’t gotten around to it! I love short stories, so do you think this collection would be a good place to begin with her?

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @TJ @ Dreams and Speculation, That’s okay, I don’t even have the time to lurk much these days! Lurking is good 🙂

    This collection, or The House on the Stand which is partly about a mad scientist and time travel. In du Maurier style, which makes it really interesting! More science fiction fans should read du Maurier, I’m starting to think…

    [Reply]

  • You can’t beat a bit of du Maurier! I’ve never read any of her short stories, however, but some of these sound fantastic. In fact, I’ve put this book straight onto my wish list!

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Rebecca, You won’t regret it! I just love her stories 😀

    [Reply]

  • I’ve never read this author, but that cover is a bit horrifying. I didn’t know her short story inspired the movie! Maybe I should join a classics challenge and read some classics. Rebecca has always intrigued me.

    The Little Photographer sounds like it could be expanded into a nice indie movie.

    Thanks for the review and putting this new-to-me author on my radar.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Bri Meets Books, It’s an old edition, I think newer ones have less scary covers – or maybe scary in a different way! You’re about “The Little Photographer” – it’d make a great film.

    I hope you read some du Maurier, Bri, she really is an amazing writer!

    [Reply]

  • This sounds like a wonderful short story collection! I’ll have to pick myself up a copy. Also you should check out The Birds at some point, it really is a fantastic film. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    @Dominique, It was fantastic, Dominique – in both senses of the word!

    I’ve been thinking of renting it for a while now but I never get around to it. I really should watch it; I think it’s quite different in some respects so it won’t ruin the short story at least! 🙂

    [Reply]

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