Ali, our hostess for the week, has already reviewed this collection of stories, and, has done so much more favourably than I am about to do. If you are a die hard fan, and don’t want to hear a bad word about our Daphne, then read no further.
This is how I think of Du Maurier as an author: When she is good, she is very, very good, and when she is bad, she is horrid. But much of her output is inbetween. Middling? No, that’s an unkind word to use for an author whose work is so varied and enjoyable, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of her own greatness (cf Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel).
A short story collection affords the opportunity to show all facets of an author’s writing, and six stories in The Birds and Other Stories do just that. Unfortunately.
I’m not going to discuss story content. I’ll refer you to Ali’s review for that. I want to talk about the organisation of a short story collection as it applies here. (See footnote.)
Rule 1) Start and end with pieces of brilliance. Tick. The collection is bookended by The Birds, arguably her most famous story, and a thematically-linked piece The Old Man, the conceit of which I enjoyed even more. There’s a story that soars to high places.
Rule 2) Support weaker stories in the collection with tent poles. In a collection of six I’d expect a supporting structure somewhere in the middle. There it is at number 3. The Apple Tree is deliciously malign. And ironically, the old, unproductive tree is needed to support a collection in danger of collapsing after the lengthy and utterly attrocious Mount Veritá. (74 pages of faux spirituality that took me 3 days to trudge through.)
Rule 3) Vary story length. Tick. Unfortunately the lengthy one is … well, see above.
Rule 4) Insert less strong stories between the tent poles. Tick. So we find The Little Photographer and Kiss Me Again, Stranger as stories 4 and 5. Both are enjoyable, but with twists that are a little predictable.
To summarise: 3 brilliant stories, 2 enjoyable stories, and the one never to be mentioned again, which has disproportionately coloured my view of the collection as a whole. I can’t rate it above 3-stars.
Footnote: My thanks to Litreader for these ideas on the organisation of a short story collection.