My rating: 4 stars
What is more destructive: the uncontrollable forces of nature or humans’ darkest side? The collection The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier features six short stories not only about the power of wildlife and people’s relation with it, but also about the terrible actions that humans are capable of. Although some of the stories share similarities, they are all distinguishable, mainly thanks to the unique voices of their narrators.
My two favourite stories in this collection have one surprising action in common, but what leads to it is entirely different. ‘The Little Photographer’ shines thanks to its compelling characters, visual descriptions and engaging style of narration. Madame La Marquise was on holiday at a seaside resort with her two daughters but without her husband. Soon after musing on how many women seemed to be having affairs, she met a photographer. In ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’, on the other hand, the narrator is a former military man, who now worked at a garage. He once went to the cinema and became smitten by the usherette. It has a compelling conversational style and touches on feminism and the consequences of war.
Nature is particularly relevant in two of the stories. ‘The Apple Tree’ is about a man who noticed a strange similarity between an apple tree in his garden and his recently deceased wife, Midge. She died of influenza, followed by pneumonia. He had not been a good husband and now seemed to dislike the tree as much as his late wife. But the tree, which almost has human qualities, fought back. Although the story is narrated from his perspective, it is easy to discern that he had a dismissive attitude and didn’t have much respect for other people. Daphne du Maurier managed to clearly characterise him without resorting to telling his features directly.
The titular story, ‘The Birds’, shines thanks to the successful creation of a sense of urgency and fear. It is a shame that it ends too abruptly. Nat Hocken, a part-time worker at a farm, noticed something strange with the birds during the day. But he couldn’t have predicted that he and his family were going to be attacked by various birds that night. And that was only the first of various assaults. They learnt through the radio that vast numbers of birds were attacking people throughout the country. The flocks of birds are described almost as if they were an army.
“(…) for again and again they returned to the assault, jabbing his hands, his head, the little stabbing beaks sharp as a pointed fork.”
All of the stories, bar one, are quite long. If the majority are well paced, that is not the case with ‘Monte Verità’, my least favourite tale in the collection. The narrator once climbed a Monte Verità and what happened in that occasion impressed him greatly. Despite not divulging anything specific besides a man named Victor having died, the first paragraphs immediately aroused my curiosity, thanks to a very precise choice of words. Readers are then taken back in time. Victor was the narrator’s long-time friend. He had been married to Anna, but she left him in a strange way. The story has a strong beginning and ending. It drags on mid-way through, though.
Daphne du Maurier’s talent shines through in this collection. Although I didn’t enjoy all of the stories equally, her versatility is noticeable, as the stories have distinctive qualities, in spite of their common elements.