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23 November 2010

Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre


Have you ever read anything so deliciously unsettling that you wish you could go back in time so you could read it when it was first published?  So that you could experience it at the height of its newness?

Quite disturbing and uncomfortable feelings occurred while reading this week.  I attribute it to Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre that I received from the library, which features quite a creepy collection of short stories that were released with illustrations by Michael Foreman in 1987 to celebrate Du Maurier's 80th birthday.  I didn't read the short stories in order, but instead trounced around and first started with "The Apple Tree," which was so fiendishly enjoyable that I wrote a separate review for it.

I also kept thinking of how Tim Burton should really select a Daphne du Maurier short story for his next film, particularly one of my favorites below...





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A quick overview of all stories in this collection along with a sample of the wonderful illustrations:

Don't Look Now.  A husband and wife vacationing in Venice and trying to move on from the death of Christine, their young daughter, are told by a psychic that she is actually sitting with them at the table.  Although the husband thinks it's all a ruse, the wife believes.  When the psychic delivers a warning message from the dead daughter that to stay in Venice will not bode well for them...
Frightening and unsettling.


The Apple Tree.  A tree in the backyard begins to prey on the guilty conscience of a widower's mind and reminds him of his dead wife.
I think my absolute favorite, and the first one I read.

The Blue Lenses.  A woman undergoes eye surgery to correct her vision, and her eyes remain covered for six weeks.  When she finally has the bandages removed, she encounters all the people she's been speaking with during her recovery in the hospital have the body of a human, but the head of an animal, one that truly represents them.
A very, very twisted ending.  Maybe this instead is my favorite?  While reading this, I kept thinking that Tim Burton should pick this as next film project.

The Birds.  Alfred Hitchcock selected this short story to make his famous 1963 film of the same name starring Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, and Rod Taylor.  Rumor has it that Du Maurier wasn't pleased with this film, and after reading the short story, I can see why.  Nothing quite captures the complete horror and eeriness of the freakish assault of thousands of birds on humans like setting it in the cold and dreary landscape of an English village by a beach, the crashing waves in the background.  Hitchcock's movie was set in California.
Although I enjoyed it, it wouldn't rank in my favorites of the other selections, surprisingly.

The Alibi.  An older married man finds that he's not pleased with his life and he decides that he shall select someone for murder.  A stranger, someone undetectable back to him, and selected in a most unusual way.  Pick this random street, then the 8th house down, perhaps this door...doing so, he comes across a wife and her small son.  He decides to rent a room from her apartment to use as his place to paint during the day, as he's fashioned himself to be an artist. While seeking to draw out his excitement of building trust with his future victim, could they have imagined how this would truly play out?
A very disturbing story, and one that gave me quite a shudder.

Not After Midnight.  A British teacher is vacationing in Greece at a chalet facing the sea.  The chalet apparently once housed a guest who unfortunately drowned and the hotel employees are a bit superstitiously hesitant around this room.  The teacher is a bit more curious than he should be, and slowly begins to investigate the circumstances of the previous guest's death, and the curious association that the victim had with another couple vacationing in the same resort.
Although frighteningly good, it wasn't my favorite, and I wish there had been one more story after this one, or if it instead ended with either Don't Look Now or The Blue Lenses.

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I haven't read Daphne du Maurier before, so this collection of short stories was a brilliant introduction, and one that I read to participate in the Daphne du Maurier Challenge hosted by Chrisbookarama.  I found Du Maurier to be a bit like a twisted O. Henry -- the endings were never quite you imagined them to be, only much darker and haunting.  The writing was beautiful and truly set the atmosphere.  Now, I'm looking forward to picking up Rebecca, yet another creepy story, and the one that etched the author's name in literary history.

Happy Reading!
Coffee and a Book Chick

28 comments:

  1. The illustrations are lovely. I've never read any of her short stories but as I need to get on with the du Maurier challenge I might see if I can find these.

    You'll enjoy Rebecca. :-)

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  2. Don't Look Now was made into a movie in 1973 with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Very creepy!

    You should definitely enjoy Rebecca if you liked these!

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  3. I've got to get my hands on a copy of this book! It really sounds deliciously creepy.

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  4. I am not much for short stories but these sound like I should read them! Thanks!

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  5. I really wan this collection! I love short stories and I should read Daphne!

    And you are right, it sure will be good to go back in time and read it when it was published.

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  6. Oooooh! I love du Maurier. You absolutely must read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. But this? I'm headed straight to my Kindle to see if they have it. I must own it. The library isn't good enough.

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  7. Ooh, looks creepy and excellent! I've been trying to read a lot of new-to-me authors, and this has definitely been added to the list.

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  8. I knew that du Maurier had written "The Birds" but I'm not sure I was aware of this collection. Sounds like great fun!

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  9. I love du Maurier and I'll definitely have to read these. They sound wonderful.

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  10. These stories sound very interesting! I've not yet read du Maurier and plan to start with Rebecca. (I tend to like novels better than short stories and so usually try a new author's novels first.) But, if I like it, maybe I'll move on to this collection!

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  11. I love Daphne Du Maurier, my favourite book being Jamaica Inn, which is strange as everyone normally loves Rebecca more.

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  12. I still have not tried anything by Daphne Du Maurier, but this collection sounds outstanding. The Blue Lenses sounds absolutely terrifying, and like a rather disturbing dram I once had. This was a wonderful review and I love that you dissected each story in the book. This one is going on my list right now!

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  13. What lovely pictures! I can imagine that this would have been a great book for a cold, winter night! I am looking forward to your thoughts on Rebecca :)

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  14. I've read several of du Maurier's novels, but none of her short stories. I need to rectify that.

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  15. I haven't read this author. I would love to live in Victorian Times and experience the books written in instalments. Thinking about the hype, and the wait for each section.

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  16. I must read her short stories! These sound so good and creepy. And, I love that library copy you have - that cover is perfect.

    Hope you'll enjoy Rebecca!

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  17. I've never read these. You have me intrigued!

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  18. Love this author, but I really wanted to be sure to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving; enjoy your day.

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  19. You know, I never put Tim Burton and Daphne du Maurier together in my mind, but wow that's an image, and a good one too!!

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  20. I'd like to read her short stories...

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  21. Very Interesting! We had a first edition of Rebecca once, but I have never actually read it. I'll have to put this on my reading list.

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  22. Oh my goodness! Talk about creepy coincidence, I am pretty sure I still have this book packed away in the closet. I picked it up many years ago, but didn;t like it then, but never gave it away either. I should dig this back out.

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  23. Rebecca is one of my all-time favorite novels, but I've never read anything else by her. You have convinced me that I am missing out on some great stories. I'll be keeping my eye out for this one!

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  24. Have you read My Cousin Rachel. You never know if the demure Rachel is a poisoner or not. Very Tim Burton!

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  25. I love that copy you found! I think I must have it now.

    The Apple Tree is one of my favorites. It's so twisted!

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  26. I love Du Marier, but I had no idea The Birds was based on one of her stories. That's awesome!

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  27. These do look so freaky!!! I love the illustrations .. they add to the creepiness. And I just read about "The Apple Tree" on another blog recently (unless it was yours and I'm just forgetting. I've been known to do that.)

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  28. Illustrated!! It's gorgeous! I have some of those stories in The Birds and some in The Blue Lenses, which I haven't read yet.

    I loved "The Apple Tree" too - wasn't it sad? I felt so sorry for him, and to a degree her as well.

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