15 November 2010

The Apple Tree, by Daphne du Maurier

Part of the reason why I've been wanting to read Daphne du Maurier is because I signed up for a challenge hosted by Chrisbookarama a while ago...and I've been feeling a touch guilty every time I look at the beautiful button of Du Maurier on my sidebar.

Thankfully, I've read a few short stories in the past day that I now feel comfortable to post tonight for this challenge.  I picked up the collection of short stories in Don't Look Now, which are selected by Patrick McGrath (my review of his book Asylum can be found by clicking here), but I've been eager to read "The Apple Tree" which is not included in that collection.  I tried to find it in a couple of the regular places I go to, but to no avail.  My husband, the kind soul that he is, surprised me tonight -- after deciding to stop into one of the libraries we hadn't been to in a while, he found Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre and surprised me after dinner with it, opened to "The Apple Tree."

Here's what drew me in a few weeks ago from Wikipedia:

"The Apple Tree" follows the actions of a man who, following the death of his neglected wife, suspects her spirit inhabits an old apple tree in his garden which he resolves to remove, but never gets around to doing so. That is his mistake.

The collection that my husband picked up was published in celebration of Daphne du Maurier's 80th birthday, complete with wonderful illustrations by Michael Foreman.

"The Apple Tree" tells quite a story.  A fairly downtrodden husband is married for over twenty years to Midge, who doesn't quite nag or even pick.  Instead, her very nature is so thoroughly passive aggressive that she simply seeps into her husband's guilt, compelling him to obey to her every meandering subtle prod.
Nagging wives, like mothers-in-law, were chestnut jokes for music-halls. He could not remember Midge ever losing her temper or quarreling.  It was just the undercurrent of reproach, mingled with suffering nobly born, spoilt the atmosphere of his home and drove him to a sense of furtiveness and guilt.
Following a quick bout of influenza turning into pneumonia, Midge passes away.  He feels a sense of freedom, unburdened by the chains of her subtlety that he felt for so long, and he begins to enjoy life.  The crispness in the air is more clearly felt, the ability to go for a stroll around the grounds more inviting, popping into the local pub or to simply pass the time in his living room -- all are free for him to do without any guilt.  Without any annoyances.

But creeping just below the normalcy of the new life he's experiencing, the apple tree in the back begins to be a bit more...noticeable.  He's never really looked at it in the past, but now it's a bit more prominent.  The withering branches almost become more sickly and pronounced.  The apples from the tree taste sweet to others and instead give him a sick and rotting taste.  The wood burning brightly and fragrantly in a fireplace becomes for him a stench that even lingers in his mouth, making him sick.

I found this short story to be incredibly unsettling and disturbing.  Riding just below it all is a sense of something truly creepier.  Into the husband's subconscious is a tangible and real version of his once living wife, quiet and martyr-like that she was.  Could her spirit be inhabiting a simple and old tree?  Or could the husband be slowly going mad? I started to wonder if after a lifetime of something that he is burdened with, can he truly feel comfortable without it?  It seemed as if he placed his wife's existence into the sad tree, that sits so forlornly behind the house, almost as if to say that if not for his neglect, perhaps it could be something more.

What a freakish enjoyment I had in reading this story -- you really should check this out, if you haven't already.  Du Maurier has become a new favorite for me.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


  1. Fantastic review. du Maurier's "Rebecca" is one of my favorite books, I will definitely have to check this one out.
    Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Sounds fantastic. I will surely look for this. I really enjoyed Rebecca but have not read any other.

  3. I haven't read anything by the author. The Apple Tree sounds fantastic. I must take a look for this collection.

  4. Until recently, I thought all of du Maurier's work was romance, so I really wasn't interested. I've come discover that I was totally wrong and need to try her work soon!

  5. Oooh, this does sound creepy, what a perfect review of the story! I'm sure it makes you want to appreciate what you have just a little bit more. On the other hand, can you imagine feeling that niggling inner guilt that just becomes a part of you (and personifying/loading it onto the person you're supposed to love. Ouch! Seems like the guilt and neglect are self-inflicted entities predating his wife.

  6. I really need to read Rebecca, you know. Some of my friends out here can't believe i have not read it yet :)

    I love Short Stories, and creepy ones are really a treat. This sounds fantastic, I am definitely going to try it.

  7. I'll have to add that to my tbr list. The illustrations are indeed beautiful!

  8. Lori -- I still haven't read Rebecca yet, which I hear is wonderfully creepy -- I have it on my nightstand, so I'm looking forward to it!

    Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) -- Me, too! I can't wait to read that one!

    BookQuoter -- I'm excited to read Rebecca. The short stories from her that I've been reading so far are wonderfully gothic and haunting.

    Mrs. Q: Book Addict -- I highly recommend anything from this author; she is always perfect for the autumn and reading in the creepy, cold weather!

    bermudaonion -- That's interesting that you view Du Maurier's work as romance, I've always known her to be gothic and creepy! I wonder if she's written romances, too? You should definitely pick up her short story collections, they're slightly uncomfortable and disturbing!

    heather yallin -- I agree; it almost seems like these characteristics of guilt came prior to his wife, and are now self-imposed. Or maybe it really is a spirt haunting the tree? Freaky!

    Veens -- Don't worry, I haven't read Rebecca yet, either! You, me, and Red Headed Book Child are in the same boat together! :)

    Trish -- I really do enjoy these illustrations, they just add so much to the story and punch it up. It's a picture book for adults! Why don't they do this more often? :)

  9. I love du Maurier and I thought that I had read this but just can't remember it. I'm going to have to go back to it, it sounds wonderfully creepy.

  10. Heh, yes my question exactly! As much as I love reading, having lovely accompanying illustrations and covers makes it a more complete experience. Especially if they're the old antique print kind of illustrations.

    Some of the older titles will have many different printings over the decades and I will almost always wait until I find the most beautiful covers. Used book stores are great for that kind of thing. It involves more of the senses!

  11. That sounds wonderful! I'll have to find that story as well.

  12. I love duMaurier but have never read any of her short stories. I will have to check this one out. I've not read anything of hers that I did not thoroughly enjoy!

  13. du Maurier is a classic! While I haven't read this one of hers, she is a favorite author of mine so I'll have to check this out.

  14. Oh, this does sound fiendishly enticing! I like that it made you ask questions about what was really going on in the story. I also didn't know that du Maurier wrote stories like this, and am going to have to check it out. I need to find out what happens in this story, and how things shake out! Thanks for the incredibly perceptive review!

  15. Beautiful illustration! I really want to read this story now (and maybe more of du Maurier's). She's so good at making tiny details terrifying.

  16. marthalama -- It is deliciously good; creeped me out!

    Trish -- I agree! Having an illustration on these types of pages just makes the experience of the actual story itself so much more fun!

    Elizabeth Bauman -- Yes, do track it down! Let me know what you think of it when you read it!

    Kathleen -- Du Maurier has quickly become a new favorite of mine! Her short stories are what I'm starting with and they're a lot of fun!

    Amused -- Do let me know what you think if you get a chance to pick this up!

    Zibilee at Raging Bibliomania -- Yes, I'm finding that du Maurier makes you begin to question if it's truly something ghostly or if the person is just going mad! Loving the stories that I'm reading right now!

    Jenny -- The illustrations are fantastic, and so far, the illustrations for The Birds is really my favorite thus far -- check it out, if you can!

  17. I just bought a copy of Don't Look Now from a used bookstore a few weeks ago. I plan to start with "The Birds," but I'm really looking forward to reading some of du Maurier's short stories. Thus far, I've only read a smattering of her novels.

  18. I've only read Rebecca by du Maurier, but loved it and want to read more of her stuff. I'm going to add this to my list of future du Mauriers.

  19. I just read "Rebecca" for the first time this year and really thought the world of it. This story sounds wonderful .... and I love the illustration you showed. I think I'm going to have to read more Du Maurier in the coming year.

    And what a sweet gift from your hubby!

  20. I've only read two of her books but I already think of Daphne du Maurier as a favorite. Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are wonderful. I do want to read her short stories though.

    Your book sounds like it's just beautiful. That's a wonderful illustration.

  21. I really want to start reading du Maurier and this review just makes that feeling even stronger...what is it about her stories - the pull, the creepiness factor, the relationships that always seem to have an undercurrent of sinister....aargh! I WILL get to du Maurier - even if I have to add her to my new year's resolutions!

  22. I loved how du Maurier played with the reader's sympathy. At first I felt bad for him but then I felt bad for the wife! It's brillant.