Monday, 15 December 2014

Book of 1971: Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

published 1971


collection of short stories: Extract from A Borderline Case


He had been asleep for about ten minutes. Certainly no longer. Shelagh had brought up some of the old photograph albums from the study to amuse her father, and they had been laughing and going through them together. He seemed so much better…

Shelagh was standing by the window looking down into the garden. She would remain at home, of course, as long as her father wanted her – indeed she could not bear to leave him if there was any doubt about his condition. It was only that, if she turned down the offer of the Theatre Group had made to her of playing the lead in their forthcoming series of 


Shakespeare plays, the chance might not come her way again. Rosalind…Portia…Viola – Viola surely the greatest fun of all. The yearning heart concealed beneath a cloak of dissimulation, the whole business of deception 
whetting appetite.

Unconsciously she smiled, pushing her hair behind her ears, tilting her head, one hand on her hip, aping Cesario….





observations: My contribution to Rich Westwood’s regular ‘year’ meme on his Past Offences blog: the year for December is 1971. (See the fascinating previous roundups of entries: 1963 in June, 1939 in July, 1952 in August, 1958 in September, 1932 in October, 1946 in November).

This collection of varied and creepy stories was first published as Not Before Midnight, but now takes its title from the most successful of them: Don’t Look Now, on the blog here, was made into a truly scarey but wonderful film by Nicholas Roeg in 1973. It starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, contains a famous sex scene, and has given some of us a life-long aversion to red coats.

A Borderline Case is one I read many years ago, but remembered remarkably well, because I found it shocking and startling when I first read it. The extract above is from the opening: the young woman’s father is going to die, and then she will go on a mission to find his former best friend, whom he had lost touch with. It is definitely best to come to this story knowing nothing but that: you have no idea what kind of a plot this is, not even the genre, and it twists and turns – and you still don’t really know where it is going right till the very end. It is a very clever story indeed.

Considered as a 1971 book – it has one considerable credential, but unfortunately I can’t even hint at it without spoilering the story. There is a feature which was to become remarkably relevant and current soon after publication. Cannot say more.

The whole collection is very good – Borderline Case and Don’t Look Now are the stars, but the stories show du Maurier’s talents and range very well.

The colour picture is of Viola in Twelfth Night by Frederick Richard Pickersgill, via Wikimedia Commons. The character dresses up as a boy, which is when she becomes Cesario. The other is from the German Federal Archive, of an actress playing Viola – first used the picture in this entry to illustrate a CS Lewis book.

35 comments:

  1. Yes, yes, yes - I LOVE Du Maurier's short stories, and I also loved 'The Way of the Cross', in this collection - a sort of mini morality-play, taking place amongst a group of tourists, tracing the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
    Just as creepy but less well known than the title story (Don't Look Now) are The Apple Tree and Blue Lenses, both in other collections.

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    1. Yes, so good - what an imagination she had, and what an ability to look into the dark side of character. I was convinced the Apple Tree was in this collection, but not in my edition....

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  2. Moira - Daphne du Maurier had such a wonderful ability to build suspense and creeping terror. And what I find especially admirable is that she did so without resorting to gratuity. And yes, her plot twists are memorable. Glad you featured this.

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    1. Thanks Margot - I've been reading and enjoying Daphne du Maurier for very many years now, and she can still surprise and impress me. I think she might be rather under-rated....

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  3. Not one for me, even though the second outfit is rather fetching. I may see what I can rustle up in my wardrobe for Christmas Day!

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    1. I could see you in it. Do you play charades at Criminal Library Towers?

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  4. Monte de Verita.

    Creepy, creepier, creepiest.

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    1. Now you've got me intrigued! I will have to go and find it. No memories so it might be new to me.

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    2. Never met anyone else who's read it.

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  5. I realised when I saw a stage version of 'Don't Look Now' a few years that the plotting is superb. The way the characters are carried inexorably towards disaster is absolutely convincing. Daphne du Maurier wrote some very scary stuff.

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    1. A stage version! That sounds terrific, I'd not heard of that. I think she is under-rated - her plotting, and characters, and very strange imagination make for a powerful combination.

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  6. This does sound very interesting, and I should seek it out, even with my aversion to short stories. Except that I don't like scary either. I will think about it.

    On a related note, I read a book I thought was 1971 and then it turned out to be 1970. Disheartening although I was glad to have an excuse to read it. So now I am reading my 2nd 1971 book...sort of.

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    1. I honestly think that this one, and the one called Don't Look Now, are worth an hour of anyone's time - and I'm not a fan of short stories myself.
      That's so annoying about the 1970 book! When I'm looking for a book for Rich's meme I'm always finding books that are a year out, or there seems to be doubt about publication date. I am sometimes tempted to fudge (UK vs US publication dates eg) - haven't done so yet...

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    2. I think there was some discussion in comments when others had this problem, and no one would probably care if it was a year off. From now on I will be more careful and check dates in multiple places first. But this time it was serendipitous. I did want to read the 1970 book and I enjoyed it a lot and now I am reading a 1971 book that I was eager to read, even though I had just bought it at the book sale.

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  7. Moira: I cannot recall the last time I read a book of short stories. I have become wrapped up in full length novels for probably close to 3 decades. I used to enjoy Rex Stout having 3 Nero Wolfe stories in a paperback. That might actually have been 4 decades ago!

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    1. I'm not a fan of short stories myself - give me a full-length novel any day. But these ones are particularly good. Rex Stout covers the 20th century doesn't he....

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  8. Moira, I didn't know Daphne du Maurier wrote creepy stories although I suspect they were not macabre. I'll be looking out for a copy of this collection and even more for the film that has one of my favourite actors, Donald Sutherland.

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    1. He looks so young in in Prashant! What a great career he has - I saw him in The Hunger Games a while back and thought how he was still going strong. And, also recently reminded that he appears in a music video for the singer Kate Bush, have you ever seen that one?

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  9. Good to be reminded of the original after the indelible mark made by the film version - thanks Moira - will have to dig my copy out now!

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    1. Absolutely Sergio - both film and book are complete classics.

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    2. As I was born in 72, I'm intrigued as to what the feature that becomes relevant is...think I've figured it out. I had this collection; it's either at my parents' (I will check over Christmas) or lost, in which case I'm buying it again. Loved Daphne du Maurier when I was younger but her books could be hard to come by (pre-Amazon days, obv!)

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    3. I'm really liking the fact that so many of us share a taste for her short stories - I hadn't read any of them for ages, so it's nice to rediscover them. I hope you enjoy them!

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  10. Just seen that you don't like short stories! I am a bit boggled by this - I love them - at least a bad short story is usually swiftly forgettable, whereas a bad novel tends to linger in your mind with resentment at the time you wasted reading it....

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    1. I think it's books of short stories I don't like - the effort and time of a novel without the rewards. But individual short stories are fine! I have never defined that to myself before, you have helped me clarify...

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  11. I've only recently come across your blog, and it's a delight. Have you covered any works by D.H.Lawrence? From as far back as my teen years, I remember his very vivid descriptions of clothing - particularly Gudrun and Ursula in Women in Love, who always seem to be kitted out in the most amazing outfits and fabulous coloured stockings! I wanted to ask whether you or any of your readers know of any short stories which feature items of clothing in the title? I'm compiling a list of stories to be used in a short story reading group. I have a few, but I'd like to add to the collection.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Susie. I haven't done any Lawrence, but the stockings in WiL are always on my radar, I will get to them one day. I'll have to think about short stories... You would think Saki might have one?

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  12. Thanks for pointing me toward Saki. I hastened to the bookshelf, and came across one by him entitled 'Fur', which concerns two shallow,scheming girls, a rich uncle and a silver fox fur stole!

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    1. Oh great, sounds perfect, glad it worked out. When I did an entry on Sylvia Townsend Warner, someone recommended a story by her called 'Some Effects of a Hat' - I haven't read it yet, but it might be fit for your purposes....

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    2. Thanks,I'll track it down!

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  13. I'd like to add Elizabeth Bowen's 'Hand in Glove' (a good ghost story) and Henry James's 'The Romance of Certain Old Clothes'.

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    1. Oh great ones Christine, I've been trying to think of more and failing, though I'm sure they're out there....

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    2. Wonderful! I'm so glad I asked, as I'd been floundering. A friend suggested The Overcoat by Gogol, and other recommendations have included stories by Alice Munro, Neil Gunn and Louisa May Alcott. I have some enjoyable reading ahead...

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    3. Glad we could help! It sounds like a really good project.

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