My rating: 4 stars
The five tales featured in Don’t Look Now: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier are all distinct from one another, thanks to either their unique main characters, their settings, or contrasting types of narrative. Nevertheless, almost all of them share a disconcerting ambience, albeit in various degrees. Not all of the stories are enthralling, but a couple are just stupendous.
The eponymous story, ‘Don’t Look Now’, is an outstanding opener to the collection. It is an engaging tale, full of not only moments of tangible tension, but also occasional instances of humour. John and Laura were on holidays in Italy trying to overcome the death of their little girl. At a restaurant, they became intrigued by two twin sisters. Laura decided to discreetly follow one of them to the toilets and on her return revealed to John that the woman had told her that she had seen their daughter sitting next to them. She had always had an interest in the occult, but it was only when she became blind that she started seeing things. John was not convinced by this story. He was far less inclined to believe in anything supernatural than Laura and feared for her mental health. He didn’t like the sisters, nor did he believe in them. But should he?
‘Not After Midnight’ is also unsettling. It was impossible not to be intrigued and enthralled throughout. The narrator used to be a schoolmaster but resigned to avoid being dismissed. He justified his resignation with ill-health, a problem caused by a bug he caught while holidaying on the island of Crete in Greece. His problem seems to be connected with his mental health, though. He became extremely afraid of something after he stayed in a room previously occupied by a man who drowned.
“So that, whatever becomes of me, this paper will be found, and the reader can make up his mind whether, as the doctor suggested, some want of inner balance made me an easy victim of superstitious fear, or whether, as I myself believe, my downfall was caused by an age-old magic, insidious, evil, its origins lost in the dawn of history.”
As the previous stories, ‘A Border-Line Case’ is mysterious and has a disconcerting feeling to it, but it’s also far more humorous in tone and there are no supernatural references. The main character, Shelagh, always expected the worst from the characters she met along the way. Not everything was what it seemed at first, though. Shelagh’s father died while she was alone with him in his room. Her mother and his nurse had gone out. Right before he died, he called her and, on his face, she saw disbelief. Trying to overcome her grief, she decided to go to Ireland to look for an old friend of her father’s, Nick, who had been the best man at her parents’ wedding. The plot and the characters are exciting. In fact, this story could have been even better if it were a novella, since more time was needed to develop the relationship between the characters. Shelagh changed her mind about Nick slightly too quickly.
‘The Breakthrough’ adds a science-fiction touch to this short story collection. Stephen Saunders, the narrator, was transferred from his current research facility to Saxmere at the request of an old friend of his chief. When he arrived there, he was surprised to discover that only other four people worked there. The reason for that he will learn later on. The story poses questions on which are the limits of scientific research, if it is ethical to inflict pain on others. At first, I couldn’t warm to the characters and was not intrigued by the plot. However, in the last third, the tension becomes palpable, which makes the characters’ actions enthralling and affecting.
Sadly, ‘The Way of the Cross’ is far less remarkable than all the other stories. It is unduly the longest in the collection. Readers are offered the perspectives of various characters who go to Jerusalem in pilgrimage. Their conversations are at first realistic, but there are so many characters, introduced almost all at the same time, that it’s difficult to keep track of who is whom. Besides, their inner struggles and personalities didn’t enthral me in any way. I ended up skimming over the last third.
This collection of short stories is further proof of Daphne du Maurier’s talent. Don’t let my less favourable opinion about one of the short stories prevent you from reading Don’t Look Now.